Fire rules to keep your thatch safe

New guidelines released by the region’s fire and rescue services aim to prevent a further flurry of thatched roof blazes.

It is a quintessential countryside scene.

An idyllic thatched building and a roaring log fire to huddle up in front of as the nights draw in and the temperatures begin to plummet.

But all too often a cosy winter's evening in an East Anglian cottage turns into a disaster as flames take hold of a tinderbox dry roof and destroy a family home.

It is a thatched-home owner's worst nightmare, but new guidelines released by the region's fire and rescue services yesterday aim to prevent a further flurry of thatched roof blazes.

The advice comes as many householders light their fires for the first time this autumn without carrying out proper maintenance. It also follows a spate of thatched roof fires last winter, which involved 12 properties in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Blazes earlier this year have affected historic listed buildings at Wacton, near Long Stratton; Morton on the Hill, near Norwich; and Redgrave, near Diss.

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Graham Joy, safety officer for Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said the majority of thatch fires were caused by a faulty flue or chimney, which can not handle the heat of a modern wood

burner. "Fires could be caused by sparks dropping out of the chimney, but recent research has shown that the major cause of fires in thatched properties is heat transfer from the chimney into the thatch. Last year was a particularly bad year for thatched property fires in Norfolk. The emotional and financial cost of a fire can be particularly high, and we are determined to try to work with owners to prevent fires from happening," he said.

Mr Joy added that thatched roof fires were more problematic than conventional properties because thatch was extremely effective in repelling water.

Around 1,000 thatched-home owners in Norfolk are set to receive a free safety guide over the next few weeks, which has been produced by authorities across East Anglia, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

John Moore, whose thatched roof in Norwich Road, Mulbarton, was destroyed by a faulty electrical appliance in September last year, welcomed the new guidelines. He added that the family had installed a fire barrier between the roof and the house as part of a rebuild, which was completed last month.

"Thatch is more vulnerable than other roofing materials, so it is important to be careful of the dangers, particularly the problems with wood burners," he said.

The Thatched Property Safety Guide urges owners to insulate their flues, to get their chimney swept at least twice a year, to burn only seasoned wood and to avoid starting bonfires near thatch roofs.

For more information and a copy of the guidelines, call 0800 917 8137 or log on to the website:

www.norfolkfireservice.gov.uk.