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350 years’ after the Great Fire of London, blazes still make the news

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A recent news article (Insurance Post, September 2016) reported that despite a continuing reduction in the number of fires (and related fatalities), the cost of blazes is actually increasing.

This, says the piece, is due to people typically have more valuable items in the home as well as wanting to have damaged items replaced – even those that are only smoke-damaged.

How big is the UK fire insurance industry?

Today, the latest data from the Association of British Insurers Key Facts Report (2015) shows that in 2013, 17 million people had domestic buildings insurance and 20.4 million had contents cover.

What causes these fires? 

Government statistics show that around 60% of deaths caused by blazes are in accidental domestic fires. Potential dangers in the modern household include:

  • overloading electrical circuits;
  • going to bed while leaving the dishwasher, washing machine or tumble drier running;
  • chip pan fires;
  • the renewed popularity of decorative candles in the home (they currently account for 2% of domestic fires but for 7% of the deaths);
  • log burners; and,
  • botched contractor jobs (boiler installation or electrics etc.)

Changes in domestic fire claims

Of course, the causes of domestic fire claims have changed significantly over the years. Even just a generation ago causes would typically have included coal falling out of open fires, drying clothes in front of fires, people falling asleep while smoking, and electric blankets.

The Great Fire of London

Fortunately, insurance can help property owners who have suffered loss or damage due to fire – unlike the estimated 80,000 people who became homeless 350 years ago, when the Great Fire of London ravaged the city.

At the time, the fire - which started in a small bakery in Pudding Lane on September 2nd 1666 - burned for 4 days non-stop and reached temperatures of 1700 Celsiuswhich is hotter than liquid lava from a volcano. It destroyed 13,000 houses and wiped out over one hundred important buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Exchange, and Newgate Prison.

On a positive note, loss of life was remarkably low, with fewer than 10 deaths directly attributed to the fire.

What came out of the Great Fire of London was the introduction of property insurance policies – you can read more here.

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