Kitchen the winter house fire hot spot

30 May 2016

As autumn fades into winter heralding a risky season for house fires, RACV Insurance has warned householders that most blazes start in the kitchen.

While house fires caused by heaters, fireplaces and electric blankets peak in winter, kitchen fires dominate all seasons, according to RACV Insurance claims data.

The RACV statistics reveal that 26 per cent of house fire insurance claims in 2015 resulted from cooking. A further nine per cent were triggered by appliances including dishwashers, refrigerators, microwaves and toasters.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade confirms that winter is a busy period for firefighters and notes the kitchen is the number one origin of fires in the home. Last year the MFB and CFA attended more than 3,200 preventable house fires across Victoria.

RACV General Manager Insurance, Paul Northey said it was important for householders to follow a few simple rules, particularly during our coldest months.

“Never leave cooking unattended, ensure appliances are switched off when you leave the room and check that naked flames such as candles and oil burners are positioned and used safely,” he said.

“Householders should also be aware of hazards in other areas. Last winter, heaters and fireplaces were the cause of 11 per cent of house fire insurance claims, a costly reminder to keep at least one metre of clear space around all warming units and open fires.”

Mr Northey cautioned that everyday electrical appliances can start a fire if they are not properly maintained and used. Dishwashers were the most common appliance to cause a house fire. Over the past five years dishwashers accounted for almost 17 per cent of appliance fires.

Microwaves were also a flashpoint, triggering 13 per cent of appliance fires.

While the total number of house fires in 2015 was the lowest in five years, claims increased for fires caused by candles, electrical appliances in the laundry, mowers, pool equipment, electric blankets and cigarettes.

While most house fires are caused by human error, householders should be alert to hazards that can be created by pets. A cat knocked a cleaning product onto a heated cooktop and started a fire that caused $400,000 damage, the seventh highest house fire claim last year. In another incident, a home owner put a plastic laundry basket on a stove top to prevent her dog getting into it and accidentally brushed against a knob which turned on an element. A fire developed which resulted in $1,500 damage.

Mr Northey warned that, although kitchens were the primary fire danger zone, fires could start in any area of the home.

“The number of fires in sheds and garages increased last year and home owners should be careful when carrying out mechanical repairs in sheds and when using equipment such as power tools and lawn mowers,” he said.

Although the number of house fire claims decreased seven per cent last year, RACV paid out almost $29 million for fire-related claims, 19 per cent more than the previous year.

Mr Northey said many house fires could have been prevented through vigilance.

“Always have heating appliances installed, tested and maintained by an accredited professional.  Most importantly, make sure smoke alarms are working and that your home has an approved fire blanket or extinguisher.”

He advised home owners to check their home buildings and contents insurance to be sure they have sufficient cover in the event of fire.


RACV Home Insurance is issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Limited ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678. This is general advice only so before making any decisions, please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement before buying. For a copy call 13RACV (13 7228).

Top 5 house fire claims 2015

Top 5 house fire claims 2015

Type of fire claim

Percentage of total claims 2015

Top 5 house fire claims winter 2015

Percentage of total winter claims


Kitchen - cooking


Kitchen - cooking



Appliances, including dishwashers and heaters


Appliances, including dishwashers and heaters



Fire in sheds / garages and mowers


Fireplace, barbecues, candles and cigarettes



Fireplace, barbecues, candles and cigarettes


Fire in sheds / garages and mowers



Electrical faults


Electrical faults


RACV tips to minimise house fire risk:

  • Ensure appliances are in good working order and that electrical cords are not worn.
  • Do not leave cooking unattended.
  • Ensure appliances are switched off when not in use.
  • Do not overload power boards.
  • Never leave open fires and candles unattended.
  • Ensure fireguards are placed around wood heaters.
  • Keep matches and lighters well out of reach of children.
  • Do not dry clothing less than one metre from heaters.
  • Clean and test smoke alarms and replace batteries regularly.
  • Never deadlock yourself inside your house. Keep keys in the lock when you are at home.
  • Clean lint filters in clothes dryers after every use.
  • Do not smoke in bed.
Written by Liselotte Geary, RACV Public Affairs on (03) 9790 2717
May 30, 2016