Firefighters concerned winter heating fires could soar to levels not seen since the Big Freeze of 2010

December 2010 saw record-breaking temperatures which froze much of the UK, beating the 1982 record for coldest winter. During 2010, there were more than 290 fires caused by heating equipment. The Brigade has revealed they have not seen the same number of fires since, with crews attending around 40 per cent fewer heating fires in homes last year compared to the peak in 2010.

With the Met Office predicting it could be a colder winter than normal and with the rising cost of energy bills, the Brigade is concerned the next few months could see fires rise back up to 2010 levels as people turn to alternative methods to heat their homes.

Popular choices for cost-effective methods to stay warm at night include portable heaters and electric blankets, but the Brigade is urging caution around using these appliances, particularly while sleeping. Last week a man was taken to hospital after a house fire in Wembley caused by materials placed too close to a halogen heater.

London firefighters are encouraging people to carry out some simple safety checks before using electric blankets. This includes checking for any wear and tear by seeing if any wires are visible or poking through the fabric, looking for any scorch marks and listening to see if the control makes a buzzing sound when switched on.

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said, “While we might not see the same freezing temperatures that we saw in 2010, the next few months are forecast to see temperatures drop. This, coupled with rising energy costs, means there’s a very real risk heating-related fires could even surpass numbers seen a decade ago. We know that people will turn to alternative ways to keep their families warm overnight without turning on the heating, we just want to make sure that people are staying safe at the same time. For example, we know that people may want to use portable heaters to heat just one room or use electric blankets in bed. It’s really important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure these items are safety registered and in good working order. If you’re using these items around children always supervise them carefully and place heaters somewhere where they won’t be accidentally knocked over and away from anything that could catch fire. “

The Brigade is also encouraging people to avoid using appliances and electrical items like portable heaters, electric blankets or washing machines overnight where possible, as it means there will be less time to react if a fire does start. Their advice comes as National Grid ESO are offering discounts to those on a ‘time of use’ tariffs, where off-peak usage is rewarded with money back or discounts.

Assistant Commissioner Pugsley added, “We understand that people will take advantage of discounts on their energy tariffs, which is why we want to stress how important it is to take some simple precautions to ensure your family is safe if you’re using appliances or electrical items overnight. The best thing you can do is ensure that you have smoke alarms fitted throughout your home. You should have working smoke alarms in every room where a fire can start, plus a heat alarm in the kitchen. They should be tested regularly. It’s also a good idea to close internal doors at night. Not only will this help keep heat in and your room warm, it will also help prevent the spread of fire and smoke if a fire was to start. Finally, make sure that everyone in the home knows what to do in the event of a fire – our free online Home Fire Safety Checker tool allows you to check your home and get fire safety advice quickly and easily.”

Firefighters’ tips to stay safe while you stay warm

  • Don’t place portable heaters where they will block your escape route or where they might be knocked over. Take particular care if you have young children or pets.
  • Unplug heaters when you go out or go to bed.
  • Make sure heaters are well maintained and in good working order.
  • Close internal doors at night to reduce the spread of fire and smoke if a fire started.
  • Register your electrical products so you’ll be informed if a problem is found with it.
  • Store electric blankets flat, rolled up or loosely folded to prevent damaging the internal wiring.
  • If your electric blanket gets wet, don’t use it, and never switch it on to dry it.
  • Check regularly for wear and tear and replace electric blankets at least every 10 years.
  • Always use the manufacturer’s instructions for your electrical products and only use it as intended.
  • Make sure your home is fitted with working smoke alarms, test them regularly and fit a heat alarm in the kitchen.
  • Ensure everyone in the home knows what to do in the event of a fire.
  • You can get free, tailored fire safety advice for your home by using the Brigade’s online Home Fire Safety Checker.

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