London Fire Brigade’s latest advice comes as the weather gets colder and people continue to work from home. Portable heaters - such as halogen heaters - are one of the most common alternatives people use to keep warm, particularly if they are spending a lot of time in one room and want to avoid switching on their central heating.
Fires caused by these types of heaters can have devastating consequences and they are not an unusual occurrence. The Brigade says it has attended more than 1,200 of them in the last five years. Firefighters are concerned that home workers, confined for most of the day to their spare room or office, may be tempted to use these heaters more this year.
There have already been 160 heating-related fires in London this year, with 26 peoples suffering injuries as a result.
Home workers tempted to use a portable heater should be aware of the dangers. Common causes of heater fires are people using the heaters to dry clothing or leaving things too close to them which then catch light. They can also be started by things like nearby paperwork and in a worst case – could even catch light to a person’s clothes, bedding or blankets if they are too close to the heater.
Fires involving heaters have a high mortality rate and sadly, portable heaters have been the cause of 14 fatal fires in London in the past five years. Almost 200 people have suffered injuries from these types of fires since 2017.
Those with mobility issues using unsafe heating methods are also, sadly, more likely to sustain a fatal injury.
The Brigade’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) for Fire Safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “Temperatures have noticeably fallen in recent days, and while we know we are a long way from real winter weather, people are still spending more time at home and we believe heaters will soon be switched on in homes across London to take the chill out of the air.
“We would urge people to take extra care if they are using additional heating appliances to stay warm as there is a very real risk of people being injured by heater fires.
“Fires involving heaters can be easily prevented if people take some sensible, common sense precautions.
“Steps like keeping flammable items, such as curtains, blankets and furniture well away from heaters can make all the difference. It’s also important not to sit too close to them, especially if you’re likely to fall asleep as there is a risk of serious burns, and make sure they are turned off and allowed to cool properly before being moved or put away.”
Firefighters’ tips for using portable heaters safely
Make sure heaters are well maintained and in good working order.
Check that your heater isn't on a recall list – there have been many fires in the past year due to heaters that have been recalled.
Never install, repair or service appliances unless you are a competent professional yourself. Make sure anyone who does is a registered professional.
Don't take risks with old heaters – if it's sparking, wires are loose or if it’s showing signs of damage, replace it with a new one or get it tested and repaired by a qualified electrician.
Keep heaters well away from clothes, curtains and furniture and never use them for drying clothes.
Always sit at least one metre away from a heater as it could set light to your clothes or chair and cause you serious burns.
Before attempting to move your heater, turn it off and allow it to cool first.
Gas heater cylinders should be changed in the open air, if you have to change them indoors, make sure all rooms are ventilated and open the windows and doors.
Never store cylinders in basements, under stairs or on balconies and get empty cylinders collected regularly.
Halogen heaters can be cheap to buy, but it’s important to buy from a reputable seller as our Fire Investigators have also attended serious fires caused by non-compliant/counterfeit heaters.
Beware if you have children or pets, in case heaters get knocked over or covered up, leading to overheating and a fire.
London Fire Brigade October 2021