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Shed fire probably caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette

Case 1

How this fire happened

Like most garden sheds, this one contained the usual mixture of items including flammable substances like white spirit and oil based paint, as well as petrol cans and lawnmowers etc.

The fire spread into the shed and grew unnoticed to a size where the radiated heat began to cause a house that was only a few feet away to catch fire around the window frames and eaves.

Eventually the occupants of the house smelt burning and looked outside to see a severe fire in the garden shed that was spreading into their own house.

The occupants managed to escape and call the Fire & Rescue Service who on arrival, were confronted with a severe fire in the house and roof.

Fire crews fought hard to save the property and managed to salvage some of the contents, however there was significant damage to the structure and contents.

The effect it had

You always think it's never going to happen to you. You follow all precautions and do what you can to make your home safe. However, sometimes it's out of your control.

Our fire was started by someone else's shed. It happened at 5pm and the fire brigade left a 2am the next morning. My Sons and I lost nearly everything we owned and whatever was not burned was damaged by water and smoke.

The impact of losing our history, and also my parent's history, was very traumatic.

We are 3 months down the line and the builders have only just started rebuilding. We are living in temporary rented accommodation, 20 miles away from our house.


The distance does not make it easy to have meetings with the builders and insurance people, especially if you have a full time job as well! 

Having to sift through property to discard, identify and record is not only time-consuming but upsetting too. The inventory alone is a real challenge. Making a list of all your possessions and to put a price to them is really soul-destroying and takes forever.

I have heard all the clichés about "it could have been worse" or "look on the positive side, you will have a brand new house to move into" It is difficult to look on the positive side when you have lost everything that means anything to you. 

Losing my children's baby locks of hair, all their photos, their first story, their first painted hand print, and their first tooth, how can you replace those things? Moving into a re-decorated home does not in any way make up for what we have lost, its only new bricks and mortar.

I know that this situation may take a year to conclude and during that time, I am sure that not a day will go by where I will not be trying to recapture and remember the contents of my home.


This case study was contributed by London Fire Brigade

Safety message

Every year Fire & Rescue Services attends a number of fires that start in garden sheds / outbuildings and that sometimes spread to involve property.

Sheds will typically contain a wide range of combustible and flammable materials and can include: Propane gas, petrol, flammable paints and white spirit etc.

Substances like linseed oil can cause spontaneous heating if absorbed onto rags and stored in confinement.

Sheds will often have electricity supplied and if the structure is not sound this can result in water leaking onto electrics which can create an additional fire hazard.

If the sheds are located close to other buildings there is a very real chance that any fire starting in the shed will spread.

  • Consider where to locate sheds and if possible keep them at a distance from their property.

  • You could also consider clearing out any items that are not likely to be needed.

  • Always use an ashtray when smoking and remember to take care when emptying the contents.

  • Ensure cigarettes are completely extinguished and avoid emptying ashtrays immediately before leaving a premises or going to bed.

  • Finally always make sure that smoking materials are carefully disposed of - especially if anyone in the household is in the habit of smoking outside the house on a regular basis.

Case 2

Fire caused by carelessly discarded smoking materials

The occupier managed to safely evacuate the property but re-entered the premises after realising his pet dog was still inside.

The occupier and dog then had to be rescued by fire service crews and were subsequently treated for suffering smoke inhalation. 

  • We would always advise that in case of fire you "Get Out, Stay Out & Call the Fire & Rescue Service Out!"

  • It's easy to say never put yourself in danger to rescue animals, but we recognise that we love our pets and consider them family members.

  • Plan for their safety now in the event that you should experience a fire - so that you don't feel compelled to go back into a burning building to rescue a pet.

  • Remember that in most cases, animals will flee from a fire through an open door or window.

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