A Probabilistic Methodology for Assessing Post-Earthquake Fire Ignition Vulnerability in Residential Buildings

  • Pegah Farshadmanesh
  • Jamshid Mohammadi


Post-earthquake fire (PEF) ignition events constitute a secondary consequence of an earthquake and may result in the loss of life and substantial property damage, especially in urban areas where the potential for fire spread and conflagration exists. These secondary hazards can cause severe structural and non-structural damage, potentially more significant damage than the direct damage caused by the initial earthquake, and can lead to catastrophic structural failures, devastating economic losses, and casualties. To manage the impact of PEF in urban areas, it is important to identify the potential ignition sources and quantify the vulnerabilities of these ignition sources as a result of earthquake-induced structural damage. The results of such analyses can be used to offer resiliency improvement investments and mitigation strategies in urban areas located in seismically active regions. Most of the previous PEF studies are data-driven, utilizing ignitions reported following recent earthquakes. However, in areas for which historical PEF data are not available, such as the Midwestern United States, a different methodology for developing a PEF model is needed. This paper describes an analytical model for quantifying the vulnerabilities of residential buildings to PEF by estimating the failure of ignition sources upon a probable seismic event. The underlying concept in developing the method is that (1) ignition sources in residential buildings remain unchanged before and after an earthquake, and (2) the total probability of PEF occurrence can be estimated by adjusting the probabilistic fire occurrence data for normal conditions (everyday operation of ignition sources) to account for the effect of the earthquake. This paper’s contribution to state of the art is in developing a new framework for estimating the probability of PEF for areas in which historical PEF data is unavailable. The developed framework uses the likelihood of ignition occurrence during normal condition as a baseline; this baseline is then adjusted using certain key parameters to capture spatial characteristics, ignitability, and potential seismic intensity of the study area to estimate the probability of PEF as a function of projected earthquake characteristics. The model was tested for St. Louis City as a populated area with potential future earthquake hazard because of its proximity to the New Madrid Fault zone. Using the National Fire Incident Reporting System dataset, the frequency of normal condition ignitions was determined as 1.97E−03 ignition per unit per year. Using the proposed PEF model considering PEFs caused by damage to drift and acceleration sensitive equipment and human actions, the projected frequency of PEF was estimated between 2.79E−06 and 2.81E−06 ignitions per household per year. Using this model, and the average number of households between 2010 to 2015, 175,854 households, it was estimated that in the next 50 years, approximately 25 households would experience fires related to probable earthquake events in St. Louis City.


Post-earthquake fire Vulnerability assessment Probabilistic modeling Ignition sources 



The assistance provided by the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) staff, specifically Ms. Kathleen Carter, for sharing NFIRS Public Data Release Files, which formed the basis for this research, is greatly appreciated.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological EngineeringUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental EngineeringIllinois Institute of TechnologyChicagoUSA

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