Covid-19, Vacant Construction Sites, and Buildings Under Construction

In this difficult time of the most virulent pandemic to hit the United States since 1918, the National Fire Sprinkler Association recommends that, in states and communities that have shut-down the construction industry, fire protection activities must be considered an essential, life-sustaining activity and should be able to continue work.

Our fire sprinkler industry is working hard to ensure that job sites are safe, and utilizing the recommendations from the respective agencies for guidance.

Many of these large fires are in buildings of combustible construction and have occurred prior to much of the drywall being installed. According to McCoy, Mount and Waters (2008) these structures were “exceedingly vulnerable due to the high surface-to-mass ratio of the wood framing.”1

Regardless of the construction type, however, fire departments across the country average about 3,800 fires in buildings under construction every year. Such fires result in an average of 4 deaths per year and about $304 million in direct property damage.2

While most fires in buildings under construction occurred in the afternoon and early evening, NFPA found that fires that occurred when the building was vacant suffered the most direct property damage.3

Events in the 12-hour period between 8:00pm and 8:00 am, when the building under construction is vacant, accounted for:

  • 50% of the fires
  • 30% of the injuries
  • 58% of the property damage

During the 12-hour period between 8:00am and 8:00pm, 32% of the fires in buildings under construction were listed as “confined.” NFPA states, “the presence of workers at construction sites who can detect and extinguish fires before they have an opportunity to spread may explain why many of these fires were confined fires.”5

Causes of these fires are myriad, but it is interesting to note that 32% of them are listed as intentional.6

These fires in buildings under construction are inherently dangerous to the responding fire department and, as such, their timely completion, including fire protection, is imperative.


1 McCoy, J., Mount, A. and Waters, J. (2008). A study of the pre-fire activities regarding the Conshohocken fire of 13 August 2008. Havertown, PA: author

2 Campbell, R. (2020). Fires in structures under construction or renovation. Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association

3 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.