Fire authorities have urged householders to take care when using candles, wood burners and electric heaters to cut energy bills this Christmas after a spate of recent house fires.
Flat fires in Uxbridge and Harwich this month were caused by candles; fire chiefs in Cumbria, Hereford and Worcester reported more fires as householders used unswept chimneys and candles; and last month in Wakefield a blaze was caused by a tumble dryer being used overnight to save money.
Ofgem figures released on Thursday showed the average annual electricity bill was £1,297, compared with £815 last year, and average annual gas bills went from £602 to £1,336, an 86% rise in total. Soaring food prices mean the ingredients of a typical Christmas dinner are up almost 30% on last year.
“Many people are understandably seeking ways to reduce costs and save money as we try to manage soaring energy bills and the impact of inflation,” said Frank Biederman, a Devon county councillor and chair of the Local Government Association’s fire services management committee. “It is vital that this is not at the expense of staying safe … we are urging people to prevent a tragedy by following a few simple safety steps, including making sure you have working smoke alarms in your home and test them regularly, which could save your or a loved one’s life.”
It said candles should never be left unattended, flammable furniture and drying clothes should be kept away from heaters and fires, correct fuel should be used for wood-burning stoves, and open fires and chimneys must be swept.
Energy operators have said there has been a 400% rise in incidents of people interfering with gas and electricity meters between 2017 and 2021 and predicted the trend would continue this year with a further 16% rise.
Police discovered that a fatal fire in Glasgow was started by a spark from a prepayment meter that had been illegally bypassed. The Energy Networks Association said operators are seeing DIY attempts at meter tampering that frequently lead to live electricity conductors being exposed or unsealed holes in gas supply pipes.
The National Fire Chiefs Council has said accidental fires in the home caused by candles in England totalled 940 in the year ending March 2022, the highest recorded in more than 10 years. About a third of these fires resulted in death or injury.
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“NFCC is concerned these figures could rise as many members of the public understandably look at ways to deal with rising costs as inflation rates increase,” it said.