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Warning after open fires and wood burning stoves spark 999 calls during north-east power cuts

Wood burning stoves and open fires sparked emergencies during Storm Arwen. Supplied by Shutterstock
Wood burning stoves and open fires sparked emergencies during Storm Arwen. Supplied by Shutterstock

When recent storms have cut the electric supply to homes across the north-east, people have been forced to rely on traditional methods to keep warm.

But it has now emerged that residents dusting off rarely used wood-burning stoves, or setting coal fires for the first time in years, have inadvertently sparked emergencies.

The fire service this week revealed that crews were called to douse accidental blazes at three properties in the Marr area during Storm Arwen blackouts.

Engineers worked tirelessly but power remained out for several days in parts of Aberdeenshire. ©Stuart Nicol Photography, 2021

People struggled to call 999

Station commander Colin Westwood said the lack of phone signal at the time just made a bad situation even worse.

Mr Westwood explained: “Obviously as we are all aware a vast majority of the area lost power and mobile phone signal.

“As a result, people were resorting to putting on their wood burning stoves or open fires that hadn’t been on for a long time.

“And three accidental fires were down to exactly that.

“We found that because there was no mobile phone signal, the individuals concerned had a lot of difficulty calling out the fire service in a timely manner.”

UK Government Energy Minister Greg Hands visited Ellon, to meet military personnel and local residents in the wake of power outages due to Storm Arwen. Picture by Kenny Elrick

Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside councillor Geva Blackett owns a wood-burning stove and relied on it when Arwen cut power to her Braemar home.

Speaking after the meeting, she said she was “lucky” to have it when the storm struck.

Safety ‘vital’ as Storm Arwen highlights risk of home fires

But she added: “I am lucky, I have a wood burning stove but it does get very hot so when the toddling grandson is with us we try not to light it.

“The danger of an accidental house fire is less than with an open fire, and we sweep the chimney regularly.

“Obviously with an open fire there is the danger of sparks or even a log falling off, so fireguards are vital.”

Geva Blackett in Braemar

It comes following a row over the removal of fireplaces from council homes in the Deeside village.

Despite residents arguing they are needed in the event of blackouts, the council last week voted to proceed with ripping them out of homes under a package of eco-friendly upgrades. 

You can watch the discussion here:

Mr Westwood was updating the Marr area committee on fire figures from October to December.

In that time, crews attended 104 incidents – including 40 non-fire emergencies.

That was an increase on 23 in the same period last year, but mainly attributed to Storm Arwen and its aftermath.

Fires only a small part of Storm Arwen workload

He said: “We had quite a few road traffic collisions.

“A lot of them were very minor with debris from trees falling on vehicles – or vehicles getting stuck between fallen trees on the road.

“Also a big part of our job was what we call ‘making safe’.

“Due to the storm we had a lot of buildings that became unsafe.

“We had to go out and either remove things like signs above premises or loose chimney pots.

“That increased our workload during that storm period.”

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