Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service said it is urging householders to have their chimneys swept before the onset of colder weather tempts them to light fires.
They say people do not realise the severe damage that can be caused to homes and potential danger to the occupants when a chimney catches fire, especially during the night. The fire service says it is launching its annual chimney fire safety campaign earlier than usual in a bid to persuade people to have their chimneys swept before most feel the need to light a fire.
In the last two years Shropshire firefighters have been called to 350 chimney fires, and experts said in the majority of cases un-swept chimneys have been the cause or major contributing factor.
Guy Williams, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service prevention team group manager, said: “As the colder weather sets in people naturally want to light their open fire or log burner but that can go horribly wrong if a chimney has not been swept.
“It might have been months since a fire was lit and in that time soot and wood sap deposits and bird nest debris can build up to create a very dangerous fire hazard.
“At best a chimney fire will often leave a terrible mess and the smell of smoke can linger for weeks. At worst a chimney fire can lead to a serious house fire if flames spread through the roof space and if this happens at night when everyone is asleep, the results could be fatal.”
The fire service said that the best way to prevent a chimney fire is to have a chimney swept regularly, but there are other things that householders should bear in mind. They said people should not burn paper, plastic or other rubbish but instead only burn dry, seasoned wood.
Officials say never use petrol or paraffin to light a fire, make sure the fire is out before going to bed and make sure people have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors fitted.
“If people follow these simple guidelines they can stay warm and safe this winter,” Guy Williams added.
In the UK, there are about 7,000 chimney fires each year, most of them preventable.
Fires in chimneys can reach temperatures of 1,100 Celsius. For more information about fire safety visit www.shropshirefire.gov.uk