A Co Armagh woman who had a lucky escape after her chimney caught on fire is urging people with open fires to carry out a clean sweep as autumn approaches.
As part of Chimney Fire Safety Week, which starts today, the NI Fire and Rescue Service revealed that crews were called to 1,100 chimney fires across the province in 2015.
Kathleen Hughes was one those householders who experienced a chimney fire last year.
The retired teacher from Keady is sharing her lesson in fire safety and supporting NIFRS in urging people to get their chimneys swept to protect themselves from fire.
Kathleen recounts how a simple Saturday evening spent beside the fire with a takeaway ended with her standing by helplessly as she watched firefighters tackle a fire in the chimney breast of her home.
“It had been a cool Saturday evening in May and my son and I had enjoyed a pizza by the warmth of the fire,” she added.
“He headed off out and I tidied up throwing the pizza box on the fire expecting it to burn. Immediately the pizza box was sucked up the chimney.
“I’ll never forget the noise – I can only describe it as a loud ‘whoosh’. Sparks, ambers and smoke started to billow out of the fire. I knew something was wrong.”
Kathleen quickly ran outside and could see sparks coming out of the chimney. She frantically dialled 999 and alerted her neighbours to the danger.
“Moments later I could hear the reassuring sound of sirens in the background and was so thankful to see my local firefighters from Keady Fire Station on hand to take control of the situation,” Kathleen added.
“I never thought it would happen to me. I thought I had all the necessary checks in place – a working smoke alarm, a night time fire safety routine and I knew what to do in an emergency.
“But like many people out there, it was years since I had my chimney swept as I never really considered it a fire hazard. I want others to learn from my experience.”
Geoff Somerville, Assistant Group Commander, NIFRS said: “As Kathleen’s experience has shown, a chimney fire can happen to anyone at any time. There has been a 17 per cent reduction in the number of chimney fires we attended in 2015 in comparison to 2014. Attending chimney fires represented 5.1 per cent of all incidents we attended last year.
“We are reminding householders that chimney fires can be easily prevented by getting chimneys swept, a number of times a year depending on the type of chimney and fuel you use, to ensure that they are safe and clean for use.
“The cost of a chimney sweep is very small when compared to dealing with the damage and cost of repair after a chimney fire, not to mention the potential threat to life if the chimney fire were to spread to the rest of the property.
“Please also ensure that you have working smoke alarms in your home and test them once a week. If you think you have a chimney fire call 999 immediately and ask for the Fire & Rescue Service.”
To find a certified chimney sweep visit the Northern Ireland Association of Chimney Sweeps – www.niacs.co.uk