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Cold weather sparks thatch fire warning.

AS TEMPERATURES drop and people turn to the warmth of a real fire and electric blankets to stave off winter chills, rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging owners of thatched properties to ensure they carry out essential checks to prevent the risk of a fire destroying their home.

Although statistically a home with a thatched roof is no more likely to catch fire than a home with a conventional roof, if a thatched roof does ignite the fire is very difficult to control and the results can be devastating with some buildings being partially or totally destroyed.

If a thatch property is damaged by fire, it can take up to 18 months for a property to be rebuilt, or even longer for a listed building.

Therefore any steps a homeowner can take to reduce the risk of a thatch fire could help to avoid the inconvenience and heartache of dealing with the aftermath of such an event.

Nicki Whittaker, of NFU Mutual, said: "Living beneath a thatched roof doesn't mean you can't enjoy the warmth of a real fire, but it is important homeowners exercise a degree of caution before lighting an open fire or wood-burning stove.

"There are plenty of measures you can employ to help protect your property this winter. "Homeowners can carry out their own checks, but if you have not used your fire or wood-burner for a while it's probably advisable you speak to a qualified thatcher or fire safety officer for further tips on preventative measures."

Although about 90 per cent of thatch fires relate to chimneys and the use of woodburning stoves, electrical faults are also to blame for a small percentage of fires.

According to a recent survey by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, more than a third of electric blankets are over 15 years old and many people may be unaware that their blanket is worn or damaged.

Electric blankets are responsible for between 800 and 1,000 fires in the UK each year and NFU Mutual is urging owners of thatched and conventional properties to have their blankets checked before use, especially if they haven't been checked in the last three years.

NFU Mutual has produced a number of on-line guides giving advice about buying and caring for a thatched property at www.nfumutual.co.uk TIPS FOR THATCH FIRE SAFETY: 1 Ensure that the top of the chimney stack is at least five feet above the thatch, allowing sparks to escape and die out before they settle on the thatch.

2 Have your chimney checked to ensure that the brick or stone work is in good condition, especially where it passes through the thatch. 3 An insulated lining should be fitted where the stack passes through the thatch.

4 Having your chimney lined is a sensible precaution.

5 When installing a stove, make sure you employ a professional with experience of thatched properties to do the job.

6 Keep any eye on the flue temperature by fitting a flue thermometer.

7 Do not burn wet or unseasoned wood, as this will leave greater deposits in the flue.

8 Electrical wires in the roof space should be checked by an electrician at regular intervals and your electricity provider will often conduct a free visual check for you.

9 Check your roof for signs of mice or other vermin as they can cause damage to electric wires.

10 Locate smoke alarms and appropriate fire extinguishers throughout the property. 11 Do not light a bonfire within 100 metres of your property.

12 Remove spark arrestors. Dirty spark arrestors are lethal, sometimes causing combustion through poor venting.

13 If contractors are carrying out work in the roof space, make sure they do not use blowtorches or other equipment which could create sparks. Plumbers, for example, should only use compression joints.

14 Check electric blankets for tell-tale signs of wear or loose connections - it is far cheaper to replace an electric blanket than to replace your home - or family.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 9, 2011
Words:667
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