As temperatures drop, those with chimneys and thatched rooves are being urged to ensure their homes are safe.

WITH the winter months approaching, fire fighters in North Devon are urging householders to ensure their chimney is safe.

Last year in North Devon and Exeter there were 238 fires, and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Services had attended 75 in the area so far this year, including a chimney fire in Holsworthy yesterday (Thurs) evening.

Lee Shepherd, who has been a fire fighter at Barnstaple since 2002, is a registered chimney sweep and is urging people to keep their houses safe.

He said: “I’ve been sweeping over North Devon since 2007 and to date I have issued over 700 chimney certificates, given a lot of advice and learnt a lot along the way from many experienced builders and roofers.

“One of my elderly customers had been suffering from severe headaches for more than five years, and was prescribed various medications for this from her GP.

“Her routine would be to sit in front the gas fire every night and she would go off to bed very sleepy around 9pm.

“What they didn’t know was that she was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, as the gas fire’s chimney had a large nest restricting the vent of fumes and gases escaping.”

Alan Kyle, watch manager at Bideford Fire Station, said: “With the colder, winter months looming, people will begin to start using open fires and their chimneys again.

“In order to keep you and your family safe from fire, you need to take necessary steps such as ensuring your chimney is swept regularly, depending upon what fuel you burn, and I would urge all householders to have a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm in their home.”

The fire service is also writing to all thatch property owners across Bideford, Barnstaple and Exeter to offer advice on keeping their homes safe.

“Although thatch fires are not common, over 90 per cent of thatched roof fires start as a result of a faulty flue or chimney,” added watch commander Kyle.

“The thatch is designed to repel water which makes extinguishing such fires difficult.”