Encouraging homeowners to 'get sweeping' to prevent chimney fires

With 54 chimney fires in Banbury, Hook Norton and Deddington over the last three years, the fire service has launched a campaign to encourage homeowners to 'get sweeping'.

Nearly half of chimney fires in Oxfordshire take place between January and March so the fire service is issuing advice on how to prevent a disaster, particularly by regularly having the chimney swept.

Chris Barber, home and community safety manager at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

Chris Barber, home and community safety manager at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

One recent chimney fire in the county was caused by a build-up of debris, including a bird’s nest, and occupant Donna Hawes said they had a 'lucky escape'.

“The chimney hadn’t been cleaned for a couple of years, but we don’t regularly use the wood burner fire, so didn’t see it as a problem," she said.

“In fact, it wasn’t wood burning that caused the blaze. My daughter was burning some paper receipts when we noticed excessive smoke billowing from the chimney.

"Luckily, the fire didn’t really take hold, once the bird’s nest was incinerated. The fire crew just dampened down the brickwork to ensure it was completely extinguished.

The damage caused by a chimney fire above a woodburner. Photo: Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

The damage caused by a chimney fire above a woodburner. Photo: Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

“But we recognise it was a lucky escape. The house stank of smoke for a couple of weeks but at least the property wasn’t damaged.

"We’ll have the chimney cleaned regularly from now on, and make sure the pot is fitted with a protective bird guard to prevent nesting.”

Many householders, despite being safety conscious, do not check the first-floor link to their chimneys, where debris and dust can accumulate in the redundant upper floor fireplace.

But it can ignite and cause a chimney fire so the advice is to check this space regularly and make sure it is clear.

Always use a fire guard to protect an open fire against flying sparks and hot embers.  Photo: Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

Always use a fire guard to protect an open fire against flying sparks and hot embers. Photo: Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service home and community safety manager Chris Barber said: “All chimneys and flues should be regularly cleaned and checked to ensure they’re free from debris and in full working order, ready to use safely when the weather gets colder.

“A blocked or defective chimney can cause both chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisonings so it’s very important to employ a professional qualified chimney sweep.

“If the worst should happen, working smoke alarms can give you an early warning. Make sure you have at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home and test them monthly.

"And don’t keep this advice to yourself – pass it on. Is there anyone you know who may need your help in organising a sweep or testing their alarms?”

Guidance for owners of wood burners includes not stacking logs next to the fire as there is a risk of accidental ignition via radiated heat over time.

So store firewood outside, away from buildings and the wood burner should never be left unattended when lit.

Always use a fire guard to protect an open fire against flying sparks and hot embers - make sure embers are under control and properly put out before you go out or go to bed.

Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for community safety Judith Heathcoat added: “We should never be complacent when it comes to fire prevention.

"Householders have probably had their chimneys swept in readiness for winter, but many don’t check the first-floor link, where debris and dust can accumulate in the redundant upper floor fireplace.

“People with a wood burners also need to ensure their chimney is cleaned regularly for the same reason, and it needs to be noted that there is the risk of logs igniting from radiated heat.

“Open fires provide a relaxing and atmospheric way to keep warm, but, please follow our safety tips to make sure a cosy home doesn’t become a danger zone.”

For further information on wood burners and chimney safety, visit www.365alive.co.uk/cms/content/log-fires