HOMEOWNERS are being wanred to have their chimney's swept as the winter months approach to avoid the risk of fire.

As evening temperatures drop and homeowners light the first fires of the season, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual is urging people to ensure their chimney is checked first to prevent a house fire.

Latest figures from NFU Mutual reveal that the average claims cost for a chimney fire rose 23 per cent last year.

The insurer is warning that unswept chimneys, using the wrong fuel and incorrect use of wood burning and multi-fuel stoves can contribute to a chimney fire.

Martin Malone, NFU Mutual Manager for Scotland, said: “We’d urge anyone with a multi-fuel stove, woodburner or open fire to ensure their chimneys and flues are kept clear, well maintained and swept on a regular basis by a professional chimney sweep.”

He added: “Sweeping at this time of year not only removes the harmful build-up of tar and soot, but also clears twigs and nesting material left by birds over the summer months. Changes in temperature from a long dry spell, to a sudden drop in temperature can also increase the risk of fire for properties with a thatched roof, as the roof material is dry and more combustible.”

The insurer has urged homeowners to ensure that they only burn seasoned, correctly stored hardwood and use the stove according to manufacturer instructions.

A spokeswoman from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We see too clearly the devastation that can be caused by fires and that is why we work hard to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“People can ensure they and their families are kept safe by following a few simple steps including making sure a chimney is professionally swept and checked. This can significantly reduce the chance of a fire happening.

“We would strongly discourage people from burning wet wood as it can cause a build-up in the flue and ultimately a chimney fire.

“Flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin should never be used to light a fire, things like paper or rubbish should not be burned in the grate and it’s also important the fire isn’t overloaded with fuel.

“And use a spark-guard when the fire is unattended will prevent embers setting fire to furniture or carpets.

“One of the ways we work to prevent fire from occurring is through our free home fire safety visits where firefighters engage not only with families but with the most vulnerable in our communities to ensure we provide the most appropriate support to reduce the risk in the home.
“During these visits crews will identify potential hazards, give advice on what to do in the event of a fire and even fit free smoke detectors where appropriate.”

To arrange a free Home Fire Safety Visit for you or a loved one then please go to www.firescotland.gov.uk, call 0800 0731 999 or text "FIRE" to 80800 from your mobile phone.

NFU Mutual has provided a checklist to help protect your property:
• Chimneys should be routinely checked or surveyed to ensure that they are structurally sound, well maintained and able to cope with the demands of modern heating appliances;
• Your chimney should be swept by a professional chimney sweep at least twice a year if it is in use frequently or all year round;
• Your chimney lining should also be regularly inspected, especially when the main fuel is wood, as tar deposits are highly combustible and corrosive. A qualified chimney sweep should be able to identify potential problems at an early stage;
• Only burn seasoned hardwood;
• Speak to your local fire safety officer for further advice about fire prevention;
• Fit a bird guard to deter birds from building nests in your chimney;
• Check the electrical system throughout your home.