Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service is reminding people living in thatched properties to take every precaution against fire.
It follows two recent serious fires involving thatched homes – in Netheravon and Cranborne – which each needed well over 75 firefighters to tackle.
While there is no increased risk of fire within a thatched property, the impact of a fire is far greater. The National Society of Master Thatchers estimates that the average cost of a thatch fire is in excess of £45,000.
Over 90% of thatch roof fires start as a result of a faulty flue or chimney – old or poorly maintained chimneys can deteriorate to the point where smoke and hot gases can escape into the upper rooms, the roof space or directly into the thatch.
Extinguishing such fires is difficult, as thatch is designed to repel water; as such, firefighters have to physically remove the roofing material to get to the source of the blaze.
Group Manager Tim Gray said: “More often than not, once fire is discovered in a thatched roof, it has already taken hold and the chances of firefighters being able to control it are minimal. It’s therefore vital that you do all you can to prevent fire from starting in the first place, and make sure your insurance is up-to-date, remembering to check both your contents and buildings policies.”
He added: “Most insurers will have requirements before they agree to provide cover, so it’s imperative that you do all they ask. For example, some make it part of your policy to have a garden hose on standby, or state how often spark arrestors need to be cleaned, or determine what size the flue outlet should be. If the worst does happen, firefighters will salvage as many of your possessions as they can, so be clear on where particularly valuable or sentimental items are so you can help crews to help you.”
Other top tips include:
Ensure that any alterations, construction, electrical or gas work to your property is carried out by a registered engineer.
Sweep your chimney at least twice a year – in autumn and early spring.
Keep your chimney in good working order, for example by fitting a bird guard to prevent birds from nesting and blocking the flue.
If you have an open fire or wood burner, only burn seasoned or kiln-dried wood which has been stored in a dry, airy place. The moisture content of the wood should be below 20%, and this can be checked by using a moisture sensing probe. Don’t burn any other waste material, as stoves aren’t designed for this and it can lead to blocked chimneys or flues.
People living in thatched properties can request a free Safe and Well visit from the fire and rescue service, to help identify potential risks. To make a request, or for further safety advice, visit www.dwfire.org.uk/safety