Fire increase concerns

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Firefighter William Murray of Invercargill demonstrates how the FLIR camera detects the temperature of fluorescent and high intensity discharge light fittings. Photo: Abbey Palmer

AFTER an “overwhelming” number of structural fires in Southland in the past three months, Fire and Emergency New Zealand are asking the burning question – have you done the check?

From electrical malfunctions to flammable liquids, commercial buildings and homes across Southland have become “uninhabitable” in recent times after being devastated by fire.

Invercargill’s fire risk management officer Murray Milne-Maresca stressed how important it was to regularly check electrical appliances and areas where flammable materials are kept.

What defined a structural fire was when the “structural integrity of a building [had] been compromised”, he said.

“This can include water pipes bursting, windows being destroyed, the wiring of a building being damaged, or toxic smoke and staining from fire damage which makes the building unlivable and unsafe.”

One of the big fire risks was electronic devices being left on charge for too long, or covered by clothing or other materials, he said.

“Technology’s got a lot to answer for, you know, kids leaving tablets under pillows charging at night, or even modems, they’re designed as a bit of a heat exchanger and they need air around them or they could catch fire under something.”

He said garage fires were also common due to flammable liquids being stored incorrectly.

“Garage fires are often caused by high fire-loading fuels and oils, linseed oil rags for example will spontaneously combust so they need to be sealed in a metal tin for safe storage.”

Fire and Emergency had also been working with Lighting Council New Zealand to promote regular maintenance on fluorescent and high-intensity discharge light fittings to reduce fire risk.

These lights had a life span of five to ten years and should be replaced by then end of that timeframe, he said.

“If we have a fire in commercial buildings, for the community and the people who work there it has devastating results, people lose their jobs.

“Fire doesn’t hold back on anyone or anything.”

Southlanders should get their electrician to check lighting and other electrical appliances for safety and efficient operation, he said. “Because it is getting colder, people are using more power, they have more lights on because it’s darker – the risk is greater at this time of year and it’s not just house fires.”

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