"Though the rate has significantly decreased, the United States continued into the late 90's with one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world. Given the advancements in fire prevention, including public education, building design, consumer product safety, and sophisticated levels of the fire protection in this country, it is puzzling to many as to why this is so. In an effort to identify the underlying problem(s), researchers have been delving deeper into the extent to which human behavior affects our fire losses. The connection between alcohol and the ignition, detection, and escape from the fire has been broadly examined by numerous medical and fire protection organization studies. A series of landmark studies undertaken by the Johns Hopkins University and the National Bureau of Standards in the 1970's were among the first to discover a definitive link between alcohol consumption and fire deaths. Many studies have now confirmed their general findings. Alcohol intoxication may increase the risk of initiating a fire by impairing one's judgment and coordination. An intoxicated individual who is smoking may also succumb to the depressant effects of alcohol, fall asleep and drop a lit cigarette on upholstery or clothing. Intoxication also acutely diminishes one's ability to detect a fire. Under the sedative effects of alcohol, an alcohol-impaired person may fail to notice the smell of smoke, or fail to hear a smoke alarm. Escape from a fire can be hampered by the loss of motor coordination and mental clarity caused by alcohol, even when warning signs are heeded."
U.S. Fire Administration: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/