Rise in wood-burning heater fires in Tayside

A stark warning has been issued following a worrying rise in fires attributed to wood-burning heaters.

In the last nine months, Tayside Fire and Rescue Service has attended 11 such blazes – eight in Perth and Kinross and three in Angus.

During 2011/12, a total of 10 incidents were found to have been caused by the stoves, which more homeowners are using as an efficient way of heating their property.

Perth and Kinross group manager, Rab Middlemiss urged those with wood-burning heaters to ensure they meet the required standards.

He said: “While we have seen a rise in fire-related incidents that are attributable to wood-burning heaters over recent years, these do represent a relatively small 
proportion of the overall number of house fires we experience within Tayside each year, though every fire in our homes has the potential to present an obvious risk to life.

“We are not trying to discourage the use of these and we recognise that they are an efficient way of heating your home and sometimes also providing a hot water supply when connected to a boiler.

“Alternatively, I wish to emphasise that the public ensure that the guidance we have issued in conjunction with the Solid Fuel Association in relation to the correct installation and maintenance is followed.

“They should also ensure that carbon monoxide detectors are fitted, in addition to the obvious need to have working and regularly-tested smoke detectors within your property.”

The guidelines include buying a heater from a reputable dealer and ensuring the person installing it is a registered HETAS heating engineer. It is also essential that the appliances are kept in a well-ventilated room.

Mr Middlemiss added: “Always make sure you use the correct size of flue and maintain it regularly to avoid build-up of carbon.

“Never store wood around the stove, as this is a fire risk. This is often seen in magazines, but it is purely for cosmetic reasons and is not recommended.”

Advice is also given on what should be used as fuel for wood-burning heaters.

According to the Solid Fuel Association, wet or unseasoned wood should never be burned, as it gives off very little heat.

More importantly, when water vapours combine with other gases and particles going up the chimney, it can form a creosote-like substance, which then hardens to tar and can seep into the brickwork of an unlined chimney.

As a result of this, the flue can become completely blocked, or the residue can ignite and cause a dangerous chimney fire.

Similar advice is given to those planning to reopen a fireplace – expert advice should be sought and the chimney should be swept.

“Regardless of which type of solid fuel appliance you decide to install, you must fit a carbon monoxide detector,” Mr Middlemiss said.

“These need to meet European safety standards and must be audible and fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.”

He added that recognising the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could save a life.

Typical signs include nausea, dizziness, tiredness, headaches and stomach and chest pains, and urgent medical treatment should be sought.

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