Six common causes of thatch fires, and how to avoid them

A thatch property fire being extinguished from above, showing the second floor of the building almost entirely destroyed.

When we attend fires at thatched properties, it is very difficult to save them. No matter how hard we try, homes can be left destroyed, or at least seriously damaged. This is because thatch fires spread at a really fast pace, and are very difficult to extinguish.

It’s scary and serious stuff, but if you live in a thatched property, don’t panic. We’re going to explain the key causes of these fires so you can be aware of them, and hopefully prevent an incident from happening in your home. 

1. Not checking your chimney

Most thatch fires usually start from the chimney. There are many ways to make sure your chimney is being well looked after, and ensure it isn’t the culprit.

First things first, make sure you get your chimney swept regularly by a qualified chimney sweep. How often is often, you ask? Well, that depends on what you’re burning, but first and foremost, you must always have your chimney swept before your first fire of the season. Check out our advice around chimney safety and recommendations for certified chimney sweeps here.

Something else to consider chimney-wise is the temperature of your stove. If it’s burning too hot, you risk sparks catching and igniting the thatch. Too cold, and you may accidentally coat the chimney in soot and tar, which can also lead to a fire. Use a stove pipe thermometer to keep the temperature in check.

Speaking of stoves, make sure that yours is checked once a year by a Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) engineer. We know stoves are popular fire types, but they’re also bigger fire risks. 

2. Burning the wrong stuff

Only burn well-seasoned wood. That is, wood which has been left to dry out for a substantial amount of time, so all the moisture has evaporated. 

If the wood is wet, water vapour can mix with other gases and particles, which might create condensation. The condensation then hardens to form tar – which is very flammable – and a chimney fire may start. Like we said, chimney fires in thatched properties lead to fires in the thatch…and thatch fires sadly often lead to destruction. 

3. Bonfires and fireworks

If you live in a thatched home, you should never have a bonfire or set off fireworks and sky lanterns. These are serious hazards to the thatch, and could easily set it alight. 

It’s a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbours about this one, as they need to be aware of this danger and how their actions may impact your home, too.

4. Contractors using dangerous tools

When having work done on your home, you’ll need to set some ground rules and ensure that these are being followed. 

For example, you shouldn’t allow contactors to use blowtorches or heat guns. This equipment is far too risky to use in and around a thatched property. All it takes is a single spark, or heat being directed in the wrong place. Contractors wouldn’t want any harm to come to you, your home or themselves from their own actions, so make sure you let them know about this.

5. Having a bad structure

Let’s talk about the inner workings of your chimney and thatched roof. Making some structural changes here can lessen the chance of a fire from happening to you.

Something we recommend is raising the height of your chimney. An increased distance between the top of your chimney and the thatch can reduce the chances of any sparks setting the thatch alight.

Whilst you’re making changes, why not line your chimney too? This will stop any fire gases - and again sparks - from reaching your thatch.

We also suggest reducing the thickness of your thatch, and adding a chimney pot too. Make sure the top of the chimney pots are at least 1.8 metres above the thatch. Remember - extra space is extra safety.

6. Lack of preparation 

We’re firm believers that you can simply never be too prepared. That’s why we insist that you install an outside tap, with a long hose that can reach far around in the event of a small fire. Having a chance to stop it from spreading to your thatch is a basic precaution worth taking.

Free home fire safety visits for households living in thatched properties

So, those were some of the top causes of thatch fires and how you can avoid them. Taking a few steps and perhaps having a few small extra costs now will be worth preventing a thatch fire from happening.

If you live in a thatched property, you are eligible for a free home fire safety visit, where we will can come and help give advice specific to your home to reduce the risk of a fire happening. Find out more about home fire safety visits.