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Smoking, chip pans and candles: Fires in your home could be prevented

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Nearly 1,000 people have been injured and 39 have died in house fires in West Yorkshire over the last three years.

There have been 3,350 house fires in West Yorkshire between 2015 and 2017, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, causing 930 injuries and 39 deaths.

Chip pans accounted for 219 of the fires, smoking accounted for 248 and 185 were caused by a naked flame or candle.

More than 500 of the fires were deliberate. Six of the deaths were caused by a deliberate fire, four by electrical appliances or their leads and three by a naked flame or candle.

Area Manager for Service Delivery at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Chris Kirby, said: “Although chip pans do account for a number of dwelling fires, general cooking practices account for a significant number - around one-third - of all dwelling fires.

“Many fires are minor in nature such as grill pans that have been on fire and caused minor damage to the surrounding area but chip pan fires can devastate a property as they generate significant amount of smoke and the fire often spreads resulting in significant risk to occupants and if the residents do escape safely they are left with large clean-up costs as the house will require complete redecoration due to the heavy smoke damage to walls, ceilings and floors.

The aftermath of a pan fire in a kitchen.

The aftermath of a pan fire in a kitchen.

“We have also seen serious injuries following fires that have caught loose fitting clothing when gas hobs are being used to cook. Always consider the clothing you wear during cooking as it could easily ignite if it is loose and lightweight material.

“Never leave cooking unattended. If you use a chip pan, ensure the fat is replaced regularly. Do not fill the pan more than one-third full with fat and always remain in the kitchen. Dry food before placing in the pan.

“If the pan does catch fire, turn off the cooker immediately to remove the heat source. Call 999 and request FRS. If you are able to deal with the fire, place a damp cloth over the top of the pan to smother the fire but never throw water on a fire. The effects are that the burning oil is ejected from the pan and can cause catastrophic damage and serious injuries to anyone close by.

“The use of candles has increased significantly over the past years for decorative purposes and religious celebration. The use of small tea lights are fine but they must be within a flame proof holder. Many people leave tea lights on combustible surfaces such as wood and plastic - light wooden tables and television sets etc.

A pan fire in a kitchen

A pan fire in a kitchen

“It is important to keep naked flames and candles away from loose furniture such as curtains and to be extra careful when there are young children and pets in the room.

“Smoking materials do cause a significant number of dwelling fires. Many such fires are caused through people carelessly discarding cigarette butts or falling asleep with a lit cigarette.

“Such fires tend to develop slowly but the smoke released can quickly overcome occupants, especially if they are asleep or not alert due to being intoxicated or on medication. We always advise people to never smoke in bed and ensure that you discard of cigarette butts safely.

“The majority of injuries sustained are minor in nature. Smoke inhalation can be minor but it can also be fatal depending on the thickness of the smoke and the length of time someone is exposed. If someone attends hospital for a check-up it does go down as a fire relate injury and often the occupant has no other physical injury and they are discharged soon after their assessment. These instances still count on our injuries figures.

“Serious injuries are often caused when occupants attempt to fight a fire themselves. If the fire has got too big to deal with then we urge people to get out and stay out of the property and call the fire service immediately.

“The general trend for preventable fire related fatalities has seen a decrease in the past 20 years and much of this has been the result of increased awareness to the dangers of fire through better education at national and local level. However the Fire Service did see an unusual spike in 2016, where 10 of the 17 fatalities were smoking related.

“We now aim to target those who are most at risk from fire as people who die in house fires are more likely to have one of more of the following circumstances or lifestyle factors - living alone, smoker, disability or physical impairment that compromises ability to escape, poor mental health, alcohol or substance abuse or poor housekeeping such as hoarding large quantities of combustible materials.

“We now work better with partner agencies across the adult social; care and health sectors to target our prevention resources at people who have these lifestyle factors to be deal with vulnerable people.

“We have introduced a new ‘Safe and Well’ home check which aims to deliver fire safety information to those most at risk in addition to general well-being advice to help address the contributory factors which are often apparent in the circumstances surrounding a fatal fire.”