Last updated: 08/10/2020, 4:26 PM

Outdoor heater fires double as Londoners gear up for alfresco winter

08/10/2020 13:00
Safety warnings

New figures released by London Fire Brigade reveal fires involving outdoor heaters have doubled, as retailers see outdoor heaters, fire pits and chimineas fly off the shelf. As the colder weather closes in, we’re urging people to use these items carefully this winter.

Fires involving outdoor heaters have increased by 55 per cent in London, in comparison to the same period last year. Concern for the potential for these types of fires to increase further are fuelled by reports that retailers, like John Lewis, have seen sales of outdoor heaters spike by 82 per cent, whilst fire pits have sold out.

Restrictions brought about by the pandemic drove people to spend more time outdoors with friends and family. With many looking to continue socialising outdoors throughout the colder months, it’s vital that if you use outdoor heaters, you ensure they are set up carefully with plenty of space around them.

In July, the Brigade’s Control Officers took 22 calls to a fire in Harrow which started when a fire pit in a garden was placed too close to garden sheds. The fire ignited a nearby shed and spread out of control, fuelled further by a propane cylinder, which exploded, destroying five sheds and around 50 square metres of garden shrubbery.

Burnt fire pit

Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this fire could have been a lot worse.

“Many fires involving fire pits and heaters can easily be prevented. Carefully consider whether you have enough space in your garden for an outdoor heater or fire pit.

“Most people know to clear a fireproof space around their heaters, but sometimes they don’t realise that this can mean above and below the heater too. You must be able to place it at least three feet away from anything that could catch alight, like fences, sheds and overhanging trees, but also awnings, gazebos and certain types of wood finish that may not withstand the heat. If you can’t, don’t use them."

The blaze was preceded by two similar incidents in Harrow in the two months prior, with the Borough of Harrow accounting for over one third of fires involving fire pits in the last three years.

I urge constituents to take care whilst using outdoor heating

Councillor David Simmonds CBE, Member of Parliament for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said: "I was shocked to hear of the damage caused by an outdoor heating fire in my constituency over the summer.

"It is concerning to hear that there has been an increase across London of these types of fires, which start with outdoor heating, such as fire pits and patio heaters.

"I was pleased to learn that nobody was hurt as a result of this incident and would urge constituents to take care whilst using outdoor heating, particularly as we may need to spend more time outdoors with loved ones over the coming months as the weather turns colder."

Heaters: know the risk

Find out more

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Pugsley added: “We hope that people do continue to enjoy time outdoors despite the weather, but it’s important that you are wary of using them in certain types of weather.

“Whilst it’s fine to use outdoor heaters when it’s just chilly outside, if the wind picks up, make sure you secure it carefully or put it away. Some heaters are designed to shut off if they tilt too far in any one direction, but even a heater that’s been shut off can still pose a fire risk due to residual heat.

“If you have an electric heater, be careful not use it during rainstorms. Heaters may be designed to put up with a little rain, but normally not severe weather. If you’re burning solid fuel, such as logs in a fire pit, it’s also important that you make sure embers won’t be blown by the wind, as this could lead to a fire.”

10 top tips for using outdoor heaters and fire pits safely:

  1. Standing heaters and fire pits should be placed at least three feet away from anything combustible, like fences, sheds and trees. They should also be clear of awnings, gazebos, decorative pedestals and certain types of wood finish that may not withstand the heat.
  2. If your heater is powered by gas, keep the cylinders well away from the heater.
  3. If you ever smell gas, hear hissing or suspect a gas leak from your outdoor heater, shut off the gas and get it checked by the manufacturer as soon as possible.
  4. Keep heaters secure using sandbags, water weights or any fireproof stabiliser in line with manufacturers guidance.
  5. If the wind picks up, make sure you secure your heater carefully or, if you can, put it away altogether.
  6. If you have an electric heater, don’t use them during storms. Heaters may be designed to put up with a little rain, but normally not severe weather.
  7. Never use flammable liquids on fire pits and don’t burn dangerous items, such as aerosol cans, paint tins or batteries.
  8. Don’t let children get too close to the heater.
  9. Don’t leave heaters or fire pits unattended and make sure they’re turned off or fully out when you finish using them.
  10. Make sure to carry out routine spot checks and maintenance on your heaters and cylinders – check that any connecting hoses and cylinders aren’t damaged, connecting wires aren’t frayed and that electrical heaters and appliances are connected to a residual current device.

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