Safety warning over winter blackouts as energy crisis ignites decade-long high in candle blazes

House fires sparked by candles have hit their highest level in more than a decade as people cut back on electricity to reduce soaring energy bills.

Firefighters in England tackled 940 blazes ignited by candles in the year to March 2022 – the highest annual figure since at least 2010, according to an analysis of Home Office data by the insurer Zurich UK. Eleven people died in the incidents and 301 were injured.

Now, experts have warned October’s hike in average energy bills from £1,971 to £2,500, together with potential winter blackouts, could trigger a further increase in accidental fires.

Research by Zurich found more than one in 10 (13%) Britons – the equivalent of 6.8 million people – could light candles to keep energy bills down this winter.

Even with typical household energy bills frozen at £2,500, average prices have doubled compared to last winter. Nearly half of adults are finding it ‘very or somewhat difficult’ to afford their energy costs, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Fires caused by candles can leave homeowners facing average repair bills of £18,000. Last year, Zurich saw 22 claims involving candles, including a £140,000 blaze from a candle that was left unattended.

Paul Redington, a property claims expert at Zurich UK, said: “The energy crisis is forcing people to make tough, and potentially more hazardous, choices over how they heat and light their home.

“Rises in gas and electricity prices have already helped push candle fires to their highest level in more than a decade. Accidental blazes could climb higher this winter as households use candles to keep energy bills down, or cope with potential blackouts.

“Whether people are using candles out of choice, or necessity, we want to ensure they are aware of the potential dangers and keep themselves safe. Candles can burn out of control in seconds, with devastating consequences.

“Homeowners should always keep candles in secure holders, blow them out before leaving a room and ensure naked flames are well away from soft furnishings, such as curtains and duvets.”

According to Zurich’s study, women (17%) will be more likely than men (9%) to switch off the lights in favour of candles this winter – with nearly one in five saying they will save money this way.

The top five cities where the most households said they would light candles were Liverpool (19%), Manchester (19%), Nottingham (18%), Glasgow (17%) and Sheffield (16%).

Zurich found nearly one in 10 (7%) Britons will also save energy costs by using an open fire to heat one room in their home.

There were 733 blazes caused by open fires and standing heaters in the year to March 2022, resulting in 18 deaths and 137 casualties, according to Home Office data. In April, a Zurich customer escaped unharmed when her duvet caught fire on an electric heater, causing £200,000 of damage.

Redington added: “With energy costs threatening to overwhelm household budgets, some people might shut off their central heating and use log fires or portable heaters to warm a single room in their home.

“If people do use these appliances, check they are in good condition and position them away from combustible items. If lighting an open fire, ensure the chimney has been properly swept and is protected by a fireguard.”

Candle safety

  • Never leave lit candles unattended and always put them out when you leave the room – even for a moment.
  • Place your candles carefully on a stable surface, out of the reach of pets and children.
  • Keep candles away from flammable objects like curtains, furniture, bedding and books.
  • Don’t move candles once they are lit and don’t leave them near open windows.
  • Do not burn several candles close together as this might cause the flame to flare.
  • Put candles out with a spoon – sparks can fly if you blow them out.
  • Fit a smoke alarm and test it now and weekly.
  • If there is a fire, get out, stay out and call 999.

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This article was adapted from an article by Zurich which can be found here.