KIWIS are being urged make sure smoke alarms in their homes are working and chimneys have been maintained following the year’s first fatal house fire.

The warning comes after a man died in a house in Ruatahuna last week.

“This tragedy highlights the importance of people ensuring they have working smoke alarms in the lead-up to winter, and particularly in remote communities,” Fire and

Emergency spokesperson Pete Gallagher said.

There tends to be around 10-20 percent more house fires in winter than in the warmer months.

“It’s vital chimneys and flues are swept each year before people start using fireplaces and wood burners – a build-up of soot can easily ignite a fire,” he said.

“People also need to be vigilant when using heaters. Always place them a least a metre away from anything that can catch fire, particularly furniture, curtains and racks of drying clothes.”

The death last week occurred in a house which did not have any smoke alarms. The remote location was one-and-a-half hours’ drive from the nearest fire station, and by the time firefighters arrived the house had been completely destroyed.

Mr Gallagher said it was also critical that people had an escape plan to survive a fire, because it would spread so quickly.

“It’s not as simple as ‘I’ll just run out the front door’.

“You’ve literally got less than five minutes to escape a house on fire. And the smoke, heat and fumes are very disorientating, so it’s much harder than people think.”

It is not yet clear what caused the Ruatahuna fire, although it was likely to be either due to a wood burner being used at the time of the fire or an electrical fault. Highly combustible material stored under the house would also have increased the speed of the fire.