Fire officers warn of dangers of Halloween fancy dress

Emma Woollacott
Cheery Halloween children
Cheery Halloween children

As Halloween and Bonfire Night approach, the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) is warning parents about the dangers of children's fancy dress.

It's two years since TV presenter Claudia Winkleman's daughter was seriously injured when her witch outfit caught fire, and eighteen months since BBC Watchdog highlighted the issue.

Despite this, says the CFOA, nothing has been done to improve safety, with fancy dress outfits still classified as toys. And the rules for toys assume that it's possible to drop or move away from a burning toy - something that's simply not possible when the 'toy' concerned is a set of clothes.

The CFOA is calling for standards to be changed so that these often highly flammable outfits should have to meet the same safety standards as children's nightclothes.

"CFOA appreciates the efforts some retailers have made by applying stricter measures to their costumes, but to ensure consistency and for the ease of the consumer CFOA would like the government to act upon our recommendations," says Lewis Ramsay, CFOA director of prevention and protection.

In 2013, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), 138 people in England were admitted to hospital as a result of their clothing either igniting or melting. And things are getting worse, with the figures rising year on year.

In 2014, 21 children were admitted to hospital in England after their clothing caught fire – including Claudia Winkleman's eight-year-old daughter Matilda, who suffered serious burns when her witch costume went up in flames.

"It feels like she was on fire for hours, but the surgeon said it was probably just seconds," she told the BBC's Watchdog programme. "It was like those horrific birthday candles that you blow out and they come back. It was really fast, it was fast, it wasn't fire like I'd seen."

Earlier this month, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service released a video showing how quickly shop-bought children's fancy dress outfits can catch alight. An H&M cat costume took just three seconds to go up in flames, and an Asda witch outfit only four seconds.

The CFOA advises avoiding the use of candles – LED candles with the correct kite mark should be used instead, it says. If you do have to use candles - on a birthday cake, say - you should take off any fancy dress head coverings or wigs.

And children should be taught to 'Stop, Drop and Roll' if despite these precautions their clothes do catch fire.