London Fire Brigade

Electric heater warning ahead of ‘worst winter in a generation’

06 December 2013

New figures released today show that fires caused by electrical heaters have resulted in 11 deaths and nearly 80 injuries over the past five winters.

With the Met office warning that there is an increased risk of a colder than average winter, the capital’s fire chiefs have issued an urgent safety warning.

The data from the London Fire Brigade shows that over the past five winters there have been 384 fires caused by electric heaters. Last year, a milder winter and a safety campaign by the Brigade, which highlighted the dangers of electrical heaters, led to a 30 per cent reduction in the number of electric heater fires.

By far the biggest concern to the Brigade are the risks associated with portable electric heaters. A Brigade report on electrical fires last year showed that heaters are disproportionately likely to be the cause of fires that result in people dying. Despite heaters starting only five per cent of the capital’s electrical fires, a third of fatal electrical fires involved heaters.

The highest number of electrical heater fires were recorded in the winter of 2010-11, which saw the UK’s coldest December since 1910, with an average temperature of -1°C. The Office for National Statistics predicted that  31,000 deaths were due to the cold weather last year.

The Brigade’s Third Officer Dave Brown said;

“Portable electric heaters used properly will heat a room brilliantly but they should never be used to dry your smalls or socks.

“Shockingly over two thirds of fatal fires involving heaters are caused by clothing or furniture being too close. People need to make sure their portable heaters are standing upright and kept well away from clothes, curtains or furniture.”

The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) – the UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents – supports the London Fire Brigade’s advice.

Emma Apter, Head of Communications at the Electrical Safety Council, said:

“Electrical accidents cause half of all house fires in the UK with electrical heaters responsible for a large number of fires. It’s important to stay warm in cold weather but you must also stay safe. Make sure your heater is in good working order – especially if it has been stored away during the warmer months – and never place objects on or near it.”

The Brigade’s warning for people to take extra care comes shortly after a serious house fire started by a halogen heater in Upminster last week. A mother and young child escaped injury but half of the ground floor was badly damaged.

Most of these fires are easily preventable and are caused by heaters falling over and catching clothes or furniture alight. The Brigade is asking people not to become another statistic by following their  advice:

• Never sit too close to the heater as you could set light to your clothes or chair, especially if you fall asleep.
• Heaters should stand where they can't be knocked over, away from beds, furniture and fabrics.
• Do not put anything on the heater or use it to dry clothes.

Ends

Notes to Editors

Picture attached of a house fire on Tabrums Way in Upminster on Thursday 28 November believed to have been caused by a halogen heater.

Heater fires statistics taken from December, January and February of 2008/9, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13. Local stats available on request.

For more information about avoiding electrical fires in your home, visit: http://www.esc.org.uk/public/safety-in-the-home/fire-safety/

Thematic report on electrical fires from September 2012 - http://moderngov.london-fire.gov.uk/mgconvert2pdf.aspx?id=932

Office of National Statistics report - http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health2/excess-winter-mortality-in-england-and-wales/2012-13--provisional--and-2011-12--final-/index.html

About the Electrical Safety Council:
The Electrical Safety Council is a UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents. Visit www.esc.org.uk for more information. For media enquiries, email esc@forster.co.uk or call 0207 403 2230