Make-up mirror caused fire at £3.5 million house

Fire Brigade warns of risk

Updated: 
The Caversham house after the fire

Householders are being warned of the dangers of leaving mirrors lying around after an investigation into a blaze that gutted a luxury house just after Christmas.

The £3.5 million home in Caversham, Berkshire, went up in flames on Sunday December 28. The fire, which took six fire crews to get under control, completely destroyed the first and second floors of the house, along with the roof.

Owner Darren Browne, who is chief executive and a director of Pertemps employment group, was out shopping with his wife Sonia when the flames took hold, while his sons were able to call 999 before escaping.

However, it took all night for the six fire teams to get the fire under control, and the damage is expected to cost more than £1 million to put right.

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Now, an investigation by officers at the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has revealed the cause of the blaze: a make-up mirror left lying on a table in a south-facing upstairs bedroom. Sunlight was reflected by the mirror onto the curtains, which eventually caught light.

"Cases of reflected light triggering fires in homes are rare, however we would urge the public to be aware of the potential danger of reflective surfaces intensifying the sun's rays," says station manager Sean Keeley, who conducted the investigation.

"To minimise the risk of fire, please make sure reflective items such as mirrors are not placed in direct view of sunlight in the home - particularly during the winter months when the low-lying sun can shine on fixed surfaces for a prolonged period."

Any reflective surface can be dangerous. In 2013, US firefighters tackled a blaze that seemed a complete mystery - until one noticed that the charring to the house's wooden walls corresponded with the position of the family dog's shiny chrome water bowl.

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And, famously, London's 'Walkie Talkie' building was found to be reflecting and focusing light in 2013, causing paintwork to blister on nearby buildings and one Jaguar car to start to melt.

However, most house fires in the UK have rather more ordinary causes. Around six in ten start in the kitchen, while other common causes include using candles, open fires and portable heaters. Smoking-related fires are the most common cause of deaths; and even e-cigarettes have been found to have caused fires through the use of faulty chargers.

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