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

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


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 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 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.

Make sure you get your chimney swept regularly by a qualified chimney sweep. How often will depend on what you’re burning, but you must always have your chimney swept before your first fire of the season. Check out our advice on chimney safety and recommendations for certified chimney sweeps.

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.

Make sure your stove 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 can create condensation. The condensation then hardens to form tar – which is very flammable – and a chimney fire may start. 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. 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 contractors 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. Chimney structure

Making some structural changes can lessen the chance of a fire happening to you.

We recommend raising the height of your chimney. An increased distance between the top of your chimney and the thatch reduces 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 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 pot is at least 1.8 metres above the thatch. Remember - extra space is extra safety.

6. Lack of preparation

You can never be too prepared. That’s why we insist that you fit 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 people living in thatched properties

Those are some of the main causes of thatch fires and how you can avoid them. Taking a few steps and perhaps having some extra costs now is worth it to prevent a thatch fire from happening.

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

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