Man in hospital after attempt to heat London home with timber to avoid soaring bills

9 May 2022, 06:11 | Updated: 9 May 2022, 06:25

The fire service warned of dangerous methods for heating homes
The fire service warned of dangerous methods for heating homes. Picture: Alamy/Google Maps

By Will Taylor

A fire broke out at a south London home after a man tried to use timber on an open fire to heat his home.

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With Brits facing soaring bills and considering how to power their homes on the cheap, the London Fire Brigade said it was worried people were putting their lives at risk.

It is understood the fire in Kingston Road, New Malden, broke out because combustible items were left too close to an open fire.

Eight fire engines and about 60 firefighters rushed out just after 8.30am on April 26 as flames spread throughout the home, and they managed to get it under control by 10.30am after the house was significantly damaged.

A man was taken to hospital but no further details on their injury has been provided. Three people were treated at the scene.

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Adam Scorer, chief executive of fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA), described the incident as a "harsh and dangerous reality of the cost-of-living crisis".

The man was seen trying to use a fire extinguisher as a passing police officer went to evacuate residents nearby.

A neighbour said: "You could not see [anything] as the smoke was so thick. It was just unbelievable.

"I shut all my windows and whenever I opened the door to let someone in some smoke came into the hallway."

Children had to get off buses en route to school and walk because of the thick smoke enveloping the area.

A neighbour had to leave their home for some time because of minor smoke and water damage.

The London Fire Brigade's deputy assistant commissioner for fire safety, Charlie Pugsley, pleaded with people to not take risks when it comes to heating their home.

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He said: "We know this is a difficult time and people are thinking about ways to reduce their energy bills, but we're really concerned that they may be putting lives at risk by doing so.

"If you do have a log burner or an open fire, follow our advice carefully. Almost 30% of fires involving log burners, heaters and traditional open fires are caused by items being placed too close to a heat source.

"Always use a fire guard and keep anything that could catch alight well away, such as logs and kindling which could be ignited by radiating heat.

The fire broke out in Kingston Road
The fire broke out in Kingston Road. Picture: Google Maps

"It's also important to make sure you have carbon monoxide alarms in your home. You can't taste, see or smell carbon monoxide fumes, but it can kill in minutes.

"Please don't take the risk by using treated wood on fires. Not only can they produce toxic fumes, but they are also more likely to spit embers when burnt, which could set alight to nearby objects."

Mr Scorer said: "One in four UK households are now in fuel poverty, which means millions are facing impossible choices because of their high energy bills."

"Some are choosing between heating and eating, others are self disconnecting completely and some are even starting open fires.

"These aren't coping strategies. It's people who feel they have no safe choice to make.

"Sadly, it will only become more common as the impact of the price rises and the reality of next winter hits home.

"The Government has to get its priorities right. Government has to get money in the pockets and off the energy bills of those on lowest incomes."

A Government spokesperson said: "We recognise the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, which is why we have set out a £22 billion package of support, including rebates and energy bill reductions.

"Anyone struggling to pay their energy bills should contact their supplier as soon as possible to work out an affordable payment plan, which suppliers are legally obliged to agree to."

New fire safety laws were passed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.