Warning after home gutted

TESTING TIME:  Gordon Herkt checks the safety of an electric blanket on a purpose-built testing machine.
TESTING TIME: Gordon Herkt checks the safety of an electric blanket on a purpose-built testing machine.

Electric blankets can become dangerous if the wires coil or kink, causing a hot spot on the bed, Marlborough's top firefighter says.

Marlborough firefighters are called to at least two fires each winter caused by an electric blanket.

On Monday, a fire attributed to an electric blanket gutted a house at Alana Place in Witherlea.

Marlborough chief fire officer Rob Dalton said the most important thing for people who used electric blankets was to make sure they were fixed to the bed properly.

If an electric blanket was switched on in an unmade bed, the bedding on top of the hot spot could heat up and catch fire, he said.

"As you move around in bed, they can get rumpled up, causing a kink in the wire," he said.

"If the blanket is fixed and flat on the bed, the wires stay straight."

Electric blankets were not unsafe, but people needed to use them safely, he said.

"Ideally, you turn it on an hour before bed and turn it off when you get in.

"You're not supposed to hop into the bed and sleep with it on."

Dalton recommended people have their electric blankets checked once a year.

When it came time to store them after winter, the blankets needed to be rolled up like a tube, or folded loosely with nothing put on top of them, he said.

He also advised people to turn the blankets off at the wall when they weren't using them and to get into the habit of closing doors in the house when leaving to prevent fire spreading.

Blenheim store 100% Herkt Appliances on High St checked up to 60 electric blankets a week before winter.

Owner Gordon Herkt said the blanket was put on a special electric blanket testing machine, built by the former Marlborough Electric Power Board.

The machine has large halogen lights that let the testing staff see how the wires are sitting in the blanket. They should be in uniform lines, but over time the wires could bunch up and curl, creating extra hot points.

The blanket controllers were tested with a meter and the blanket was rolled up in conductive fabric to check if there were any small bits of wire coming through the material.

The $12 fee to check a blanket was a small price to pay for safety, he said.

Despite the cheaper cost of some electric blankets, the number of blankets checked each year by staff hadn't decreased, Herkt said.

Cheaper blankets were not unsafe, but the difference was in the quality of the blanket and how fast it heated up, he said.

Each blanket should have a life of about 10 years, while some could last longer if looked after properly.

The Marlborough Express