With the UK summer well underway, new data released today by UK insurer Zurich reveals that just four balcony fires in 2019 caused almost £9m worth of damage as the fires spread to neighbouring flats or entire buildings in some cases. The insurer warns that the majority of balcony fires start as a result of careless use of BBQs or discarded smoking materials.
With nine million families across the UK living in flats, Zurich calls for caution when it comes to balcony blazes. The risks are increased by the fact that wind speeds are stronger at greater heights and can carry burning embers for up to one mile. In addition, combustible cladding and building materials are often used for the construction and façade of balconies, as well as wider parts of the building. This creates the perfect environment for a fatal fire.
Official figures from London Fire Brigade show that that in the last three years there have been 550 balcony fires in London alone.
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Zurich claims experts: Barbecues should never be used on balconies under any circumstances. This includes all types, all fuels and all sizes of barbecue. Even if they are being inappropriately marketed specifically for balcony use, they still carry the same risks.
Fire claims up by 48%
Further analysis of Zurich claims figures shows that fire is still a huge problem in the UK, with the cost of damage caused by blazes rising dramatically year on year. In 2019, Zurich paid out over £210m for property fires across private, public and commercial sectors, a 48% rise from £141.5m in 2018. What is more, an average large fire now costs almost £1m to rectify, again, a 42% increase from £666,000 in 2018.
However, the most devastating impact of fires is felt by the homeowners, renters and tenants who end up losing their homes and valuable possessions which often can’t be replaced. According to Zurich, families and individuals spent on average more than 21 weeks in alternative accommodation following a blaze in their home in 2019. Since January this year, the insurer has been piloting a programme of mental health support services and counselling to its customers who may have experienced traumatic events for which they had to make a claim.
David Nichols, Chief Claims Officer at Zurich, said: “Fires not only put people’s lives at risk, they also destroy homes and irreplaceable personal possessions. The £210m which Zurich paid out for fire damage to properties last year doesn’t include the emotional turmoil and disruption these events cause.
“This is why we urge people to think twice and avoid using BBQs or smoking on their balconies. Just a small ignition source, or persistent heat over a period of time can start a fire. This can happen hours after the residents have gone to bed. What’s more worrying is the number of companies marketing barbecues which claim to be specifically designed for balconies. In our view these products should be banned as there is no such thing as a safe balcony barbecue.”
Zurich calls for Government intervention
The warning comes as part of Zurich’s wider fire prevention strategy. The insurer has played an active role in ‘The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety’ announced by Dame Judith Hackett following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It has also repeatedly warned the Government that the regulatory system covering high-rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose and has called for a radical rethink of the whole system and how it works.
• Extending the combustible cladding ban to the entire external height of all residential and non-residential buildings,
• Introducing a property-safety building regulatory baseline to ensure that residents can not only escape but also have a home to return to
• Introducing a publicly available property database to ensure that property owners, the wider public, and Fire & Rescue Services understand how a property was constructed.
• Zurich echoes warnings by the London Fire Brigade and other Fire & Safety Rescue Services of the dangers of balcony barbeques which are being marketed carelessly, with a complete disregard as to how dangerous they can be. It is engaging Parliament on the dangers of balcony BBQs and the risks they pose, particularly in developments constructed using modern methods of construction.