23 October 2011
Firefighters are urging people who use heated wheat bags to be extra careful following an incident in Buckingham this morning.
Two crews from Buckingham Fire Station were called to a flat at Brooks Court shortly after 1.30am after a wheat bag caught fire after being overheated in a microwave oven.
The occupant had intended to use it as a bed-warmer, and placed it on a window sill to cool down after realising it was too hot. It started a smouldering fire which damaged the window and caused smoke to enter the flat.
Firefighters used a hose reel to put out the fire, and ventilated the flat to clear away the smoke.
Chris Bailey, who heads Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team said: “Wheat bags heated in microwave ovens are a well known way of helping bring warmth and relief to aching joints and muscles - but they must be used with care.
“A product that absorbs and stores heat in this way is a potential fire risk if not used properly. For this reason it is vital to follow manufacturers’ instructions to avoid possible injury.”
Two years ago, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service took part in a national campaign following an inquest into the death of a woman from West Yorkshire whose overheated wheat bag set fire to her bedding.
The coroner said he had previously been unaware of the dangers, and called on fire and rescue services to raise public awareness.
West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service conducted extensive research into overheated bags and shared its findings internationally following the inquest. It is believed that considerably more of these fires actually happen but do not lead to 999 calls as they are put out by householders.
Wheat bags bought in shops have manufacturers’ instructions which recommend maximum heating times. Home-made bags can pose a greater risk because the type of wheat may be unknown and there are no manufacturers’ instructions to follow.
If a bag is kept insulated after heating - for example, under bedclothes - it may ignite.
Chris offered the following safety tips for people who use wheat bags:
- Buy wheat bags with clear heating instructions from the manufacturer, and follow them.
- Buy bags which include manufacturers’ contact details if you have a problem.
- Only use as a heat pack for direct application to the body.
- Ensure your microwave turntable is working properly.
- Watch for signs of overuse, such as a smell of burning or charring.
- Leave bags to cool in a safe area and on a noncombustible surface like a kitchen sink.
- Use a wheat bag as a bed-warmer.
- Overheat the bag.
- Reheat the bag until it has completely cooled – which may take up to two hours.
- Leave the microwave oven unattended when heating.
- Put the bag away for storage until it has cooled.
- Use the bag if you see evidence of problems.