WINTER has seen a spike in house fires in New South Wales.
New research by insurance company Suncorp found that fires increase by 47 per cent during the cold season statewide.
Armidale Fire Station commander Steve McWhirter said wood, electric and gas heaters are significant contributors.
“It’s often a misuse of household heaters, we like to say ‘keep it a metre from the heater’,” he said.
“When winter rolls around and people can’t get their clothes dry they’ll set up a clothes horse next to a heater, or put a damp towel over an electric heater.”
Chimney fires can be dangerous if not properly maintained.
Residents should make sure they have their flues cleaned once a year.
Mr McWhirter said a build up of soot in the chimney over summer, or birds nesting can block the chimney and cause a fire.
"If it blocks up it can send smoke back to the floor level which then comes out into the house," he said.
For the last ten years smoke alarms have been legally required in Australian homes, but Mr McWhirter said he still finds residents are not checking their system regularly.
“One of the first house fires I attended in Armidale was one where they didn’t have a working smoke alarm,” he said.
“When you’re asleep your sense of smell goes to sleep with you – you can’t smell the smoke.
“A lot of people actually don’t burn in a house fire, they suffocate because of the smoke, they don’t know it’s there.”
The leading cause of house fires is unattended cooking.
The Fire and Rescue NSW Keep Looking While Cooking campaign aims to raise awareness about dangers in the kitchen.
“People will put something on to cook in the oven or on the stove top,” station commander McWhirter said.
“Somebody might want a hand with their homework – they get preoccupied with that and cooking can boil over, especially with oil fires.”
“If this happens people should turn the power off and use a fire blanket to smother the fire.”
Armidale Fire and Rescue NSW offers free fire safety checks to all residents.
Firefighters can come to a residence and look for fire risks, check smoke detectors and help plan escape routes.