Thatch Fires a ‘Burning Issue’ as Autumn Arrives

A recent spate of fires in thatched properties has led the UK’s leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual, to urge the owners of thatched properties to ensure they carry-out essential checks to prevent the risk of a fire destroying their home.

As summer draws to a close and night-time temperatures begin to drop, many homeowners will be turning to their open fires or wood-burning stoves to provide extra warmth. Before lighting the first fire of the season, however, NFU Mutual is urging the owners of thatched properties to ensure their chimney is swept by a registered chimney sweep and that the chimney is well maintained, particularly where it passes through the thatch.

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 thatched property is damaged by fire, it can take up to 18 months for a property to be re-built, 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.

Commenting on the importance of protecting thatched properties, Nicki Whittaker from 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.

90% of thatch fires relate to chimneys and the use of wood-burning stoves and in 2013, NFU Mutual handled claims for thatched properties damaged or destroyed by fire totalling £3.5 million.  

To help homeowners, NFU Mutual has produced a number of online guides giving advice about buying and caring for a thatched property. Homeowners can visit www.nfumutual.co.uk to view the guides or for more thatch tips.

TIPS FOR THATCH FIRE SAFETY:

  • Ensure your chimney stack is at least five feet above the thatch, allowing sparks to escape and die-out before they settle.
  • Around 90% of thatch fires are caused by chimneys – make sure you have your chimney swept regularly to prevent a build-up of soot deposits.
  • Have your chimney checked to ensure that the brick or stone work is in good condition, especially where it passes through the thatch.
  • Consider having your chimney lined. An insulated lining should be fitted where the stack passes through the thatch.
  • When installing a stove, make sure you employ a professional with experience of thatched properties to do the job.
  • Keep an eye on the flue temperature by fitting a flue thermometer.
  • Locate smoke alarms and appropriate fire extinguishers throughout the property.
Polly has almost 20 years in the media industry. As Editor of Andover and Villages, she strives to bring the latest and greatest news with a minutes notice. Polly can be contacted via editor@andoverandvillages.co.uk or alternatively called at