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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.
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.
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."
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.”