London firefighters have issued an urgent safety warning following a recent blaze in south-west London as rising energy bills hit UK homes.
Fire investigators have determined that the cause of a major house fire in New Malden involved the use of an open fire instead of gas central heating. With more than 100 fires involving open fires, wood-burning stoves and radiators in the past few months alone, the Brigade fears expensive energy bills could lead to a surge in fires as people resort to alternative means of heating their home during the colder periods of the year.
The blaze, which started on Kingston Road in late April, is believed to have been caused by combustible objects being too close to an open fire. The fire was discovered by the resident who was burning wood over an open fire in his living room to heat his home. He was taken to hospital and the property suffered extensive damage.
Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Fire Safety Charlie Pugsley said: ‘We know these are tough times and people are thinking of ways to reduce their energy bills, but we are really concerned that they will put lives at risk by doing so.
“If you have a wood-burning stove or an open fire, follow our advice carefully. Nearly 30% of fires involving wood stoves, heaters and traditional open fires are caused by objects placed too close to a heat source. Always use a firewall and keep away anything that could ignite, such as logs and kindling that could be ignited by radiant heat. It’s also important to make sure you have carbon monoxide alarms in your home. You cannot taste, see or smell carbon monoxide fumes, but it can kill within minutes.
“Please don’t take the risk of using treated wood for fires either. Not only can they produce toxic fumes, but they are also more likely to spit embers when burned, which could ignite nearby objects.
The Brigade also encourages people to familiarize themselves with their advice on the safe use of heating appliances and to consider the fire risks of using unconventional means to heat your home. Leaving the oven or cooktop on may cause a fire or produce toxic carbon monoxide fumes.
Safety tips for wood-burning stoves and open fires
- Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained.
- Always have your chimney swept by a specialist – at least once a year for coal, twice for logs. Chimney sweeps must be certified by the National Association of Chimney Sweeps or HETAS.
- Be sure to use a firewall to protect against flying sparks and hot embers.
- Before going to bed, make sure any fires or hot embers are under control and watched.
- Store logs away from solid fuel burners – radiant heat can cause them to burn.
- Keep clothing and fabrics away from open fires and wood stoves.
- Be careful of children and pets – watch them carefully and use firewalls.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms containing solid fuel gas or paraffin heaters. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and learn what to do if you suspect there may be a leak.
Support is available to help you pay your energy bills – you can contact your local authority and Citizens Advice can also provide information on grants and benefits to help you pay your energy bills. The Mayor of London’s Cost of Living Hub is also available to Londoners, providing information, financial support and advice to help manage household finances. SHINE London also has a dedicated helpline and affordable interventions available.
Londoners can also make sure their homes are safe by using the Brigade’s online home fire safety checker, which can provide personalized fire safety advice.