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20 August 2014 - Maidstone couple speak out about a fire caused by sunlight

Maidstone couple speak out about a fire caused by sunlight

The scorched area of the window frame

For most of us, seeing the sunshine streaming through the windows of your home is a reminder that summer is not yet over.

But an elderly couple in Maidstone was left puzzled yesterday (19 August 2014) when they smelled smoke coming from their bedroom in West Park Road and discovered a smouldering hole in a wooden window frame.

Mr Terry Culham, whose wife, Ann, is wheelchair-bound, said: “I went upstairs to get a book and happened to notice an unusual smell coming from the back bedroom. When I went in to see what it was, I noticed blue smoke coming from the window frame.

I dread to think what might have happened if we had been out or not noticed it – people need to be aware that this sort of thing can happen.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service sent a fire officer to find out what could have caused the damage and it was found that the scorching was a result of sunlight reflecting on a magnifying mirror placed on a dressing table.

Terry Culham at the window frame that was damaged

Station Manager Andy Corby, who examined the scene, said: “The sunlight appears to have reflected off the mirror and caused a burn, two-inches in diameter, on the timber frame. Luckily, the fire was discovered early and had not yet developed enough to spread to the curtains of other items near the window.”

Focussed sunlight as an ignition source has been the subject of a recent case study carried out by Charlie Smith, an officer with KFRS’s fire investigation team.

Charlie said: “Incidents of this type are not quite as unusual as you might think. In fact, there have been several fires of a similar nature in recent years in Kent - some of them causing considerable damage - where sunlight has been the ignition source.”

Incidents have included a magnifying glass setting fire to a sofa, a shaving mirror setting a shed roof alight, a glass lamp setting fire to a cardboard box of Christmas decorations and a glass crystal setting fire to some video tapes.

Charlie explained: “Studies have shown that a number of factors need to combine for these fires to occur. There would need to be an item in a position which allows the sun to pass through it or to be reflected by it on to an ignitable item, and this would need to be within the focal plane of that item for it to catch fire.

Station Manager Andy Corby with Maidstone resident Terry Culham

"It is difficult to give safety advice to prevent these types of incident, as it would be impractical to remove all mirrored items or glass from your home, but we would ask residents to think carefully about ensuring mirrors and other reflective glass objects are positioned away from direct sunlight.”

Follow these guidelines to help keep stay safe from these types of incident:

  • Consider storing objects such as magnifying glasses, mirrors, spectacles and glass ornaments away from windows, particularly if it is south facing, or covering them when not in use.
  • Take extra care during the autumn and winter months when the sun is low in the sky.
  • Get into the habit of closing internal doors when you leave home and as part of your bedtime routine.
  • Avoid placing objects capable of focussing the sun’s rays close to the window and combustible materials such as upholstery, curtains or paper.
  • Test your smoke alarm every week.

Further free fire safety advice is available on this website, by calling (free from landlines)  0800 923 7000 or emailing home@kent.fire-uk.org

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