London Fire Brigade

Cigarettes and alcohol raise fatal house fire risk

18 January 2010

In January, many people start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, and, in a bid to become more healthy many give up smoking and drinking. However, most people don’t realise that by cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol they will also reduce the chance of having a fire in their home.

London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner for Community Safety, Andy Hickmott, said: “Those who drink heavily or smoke are at greater risk of having a serious house fire. Health reasons aside – what better excuse do you have to stop smoking and cut back on alcohol? It could dramatically reduce the chance of you being injured or even killed in a house fire”. 

The Brigade’s statistics speak for themselves:

* Almost one third of fatal fires in Londoners’ homes are alcohol related.

* Households with a smoker are almost one and a half times more likely to suffer a fire than non-smoking households.

* Over 1 in 3 fatal house fires are started by cigarettes or other smoking materials.

Andy Hickmott went on to say: “When people are intoxicated they are more likely to take risks, their responses become slower and they can fall asleep easily – it’s a lethal combination which can be deadly if a fire starts”.

The most common causes of fires involving alcohol include cigarettes not being put out properly and candles or cooking being left unattended after people have fallen asleep.
A person affected by alcohol is not always in a position to escape from a fire and so can often be badly injured or killed.

Paul Paterson*, 52, from Lewisham, knows only too well about the fire risks associated with drinking. Two years ago he suffered a serious house fire after he left his chip pan on after he’d had a few drinks. Paul said: “The fire destroyed my kitchen and the smoke damaged my whole flat. The whole situation was absolutely terrifying.

I’d say to anyone – if you’re going out drinking: plan ahead. Either prepare some food before you go out that doesn’t require any cooking or better still, get a takeaway, it could save your life”.
The Brigade advises Londoners to keep the following safety tips in mind
* Make sure you have a working smoke alarm.
* The risk of accidents, especially in the kitchen, is greater after alcohol has been consumed. Never leave cooking unattended.
* Make sure cigarettes are completely extinguished.
* Never smoke in bed- if you need to lie down, don’t light up. You could doze off and set your bed on fire.
* Take extra care when you’re tired or have been drinking alcohol. It’s very easy to fall asleep without realising that your cigarette is still burning.
* Don’t light candles if you’ve been drinking.
* Never leave lit cigarettes cigars or pipes unattended - they can easily overbalance as they burn down, land on a carpet or newspaper and start a fire.
* Buy child-resistant lighters and matchboxes and keep matches and lighters well away from children.
* Use a proper, heavy ashtray that can’t tip over easily and is made of a material that won’t burn.
* Tap your ash into an ashtray – never a wastebasket – and don’t let the ash or cigarette ends build up in the ashtray.
As part of the campaign to highlight the dangers of alcohol and smoking, the Brigade has also launched a new YouTube video – Diary of a Firefighter. In his video diary, firefighter Ben Yong, from Kensington fire station, talks about the fire dangers associated with drinking and smoking. You can view Ben’s diary by clicking here.

Notes to editors

* For a full case study on Paul Paterson, please call Emma Cullen in the Brigade’s press office on 020 8536 5922 or email  

Please note Paul Paterson is not available for interview.

For more fire safety advice, go to