A MASS of chimney fires across Cumbria has sparked a safety warning from firefighters.

There have been 32 chimney fires in the county so far this year – including nine since February 1.

This is as a result of people combating the ongoing spell of cold and wet weather with open fires and wood burners without always taking safety precautions.

Chimney fires tend to be caused by a build-up of coal soot or wood tar deposits, so if fires and wood burners are not regularly cleaned and maintained they can pose a danger.

The extreme heat from chimney fires can quickly cause severe damage.

This month alone, chimney fires in Calthwaite, Kendal, Gamblesby, Patterdale, Askham, Haverthwaite, Dockray, Dearham and Milnthorpe all required extinguishing by Cumbria fire and rescue service so firefighters are urging residents to take a few imple steps to reduce the chances of chimney fires and prevent potential tragedy.

Some simple tips can greatly reduce your chances of having a fire in your chimney include:

*Make sure you have a functioning smoke alarm and check it works regularly.

*Sweep the chimney before use.

*Ensure a fireguard is used at all times – it can prevent a serious property fire.

*Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.

*Never use petrol or paraffin to light your fire.

Cumbria fire and rescue service would also recommend the following simple maintenance routines:

* Solid fuel fires- swept once a year for smokeless fuel; twice a year for coal.

*Wood burning fires - four times a year when in use.

*Gas fires - once a year if designed for sweeping.

*Oil fires - once a year.

Cumbria’s assistant chief fire officer Adrian Buckle said: “By following a few simple steps you can greatly reduce the risk of a chimney fires.

“I appreciate that people are looking to reduce spending where possible in these difficult times but the cost of having a chimney cleaned is relatively small when compared to the potential cost of a fire breaking out.

“Chimney blazes can develop quickly leading to damage, injury or even worse, so it’s essential that people take steps to protect themselves, their families and their properties."

What to do if you have a chimney fire:

*Call the fire service.

*If you have a stove then shut all air vents and flue dampers to reduce the chimney fire's oxygen supply.

*If you have an open fire then gently splash water on it to extinguish the fire.

*Move flammable materials, furniture, ornaments away from the fireplace.

*Do not pour water on the fire if you have a stove.

*Ensure that the fire brigade can access the loft space.