Young family narrowly escapes serious fire

A warning is placed on bottles of linseed oil, highlighting the risks of fire. Photo courtesy of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. SUS-160525-115223001
A warning is placed on bottles of linseed oil, highlighting the risks of fire. Photo courtesy of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. SUS-160525-115223001

A family of four narrowly escaped a serious fire following a spontaneous combustion of linseed oil-soaked rags.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service received the call in the early hours of Saturday morning (May 21).

Two fire appliances from Lewes were mobilised to a property where firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used one hose reel to get the fire under control.

A couple and their two young children had to evacuate their home after the fire was sparked by the soaked rags, which had been discarded in the extension.

Investigation officer Mark Hobbs said: “The soaked rags had been left in a large ball inside a rubble bag, late on Friday afternoon. The accidental fire developed very quickly after ignition had taken place.

“Thankfully, the family had been woken by the noise caused by the fire, which was then located by fire crews in an old coal store under the property’s entrance, which contained a large amount of combustible items including timber and building material.

“This allowed the fire to develop unnoticed and reach a size that could have soon cut-off any means of escape – it had broken a window and nearly got into the house. It created a gas leak and all services were subsequently isolated by the utility companies.

“Like many other people, the homeowners were unaware of the dangers surrounding linseed oil. While there is a warning on the bottle highlighting the risk of fire - it does not stand out and is easily missed.”

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service would like to use this incident to raise awareness around the risk of fire caused by spontaneous combustion from linseed and other drying oils. Although relatively rare, the service has attended a number of similar incidents and would like people to be aware of the dangers surrounding use of linseed.

Mark Hobbs added: “Several incidents documented on our Black Museum web pages include a church undergoing refurbishment, where a contractor left a pile of linseed oil soaked rags in a bin overnight. The fire was caused by an exothermic chemical reaction within the rags, which eventually led to flaming combustion, which spread to a container of white spirit stored close by.

“Rags soaked with linseed oil, especially when stored in a restricted space where any heat produced cannot dissipate, are a known fire hazard.”

Other similar incidents attended by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service include a fire in a stack of tea towels that had just been laundered and tumble dried and another incident where a householder had used a linseed oil soaked rag to seal a hardwood door sill, where the rag caught fire later that night when it was stored in a plastic box under the kitchen sink.

In both the above examples it was fortunate that a working smoke alarm was fitted that gave early warning and prevented serious damage or injury. To find out more about the dangers of linseed oil visit

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