Reducing the Risk of Thatch Fires

Jonathan Taylor


Straw or reed thatched roofs can be ignited by sparks from a chimney or bonfire, or by the heat from faulty electrical wiring, particularly in very dry weather. Flame retardants are available but may have to be renewed annually to remain effective, and the chemicals used may encourage the thatch to decay.

Our recommendations:


1 Fit a spark arrester to the chimney.
2 When re-thatching, check all chimneys and flues particularly where they pass through the thatch layer and repair them using an appropriate lime mortar.
3 Separate thatch from the chimney stack with heavy gauge aluminium foil.
4 If the lining of the flue is found to be deteriorating, fit a flue liner.
5 Any wire netting used should be designed for 'quick release', allowing fire-fighters to remove the thatch in an emergency.
6 Access ways to the roof space (such as trap doors) should be large enough for fire-fighters to gain access to the underside of the thatch quickly.
7 Fit a simple 'sparge' pipe (concealed within the thatch) to deliver water along the ridge, with a connection at ground level to which the fire brigade can connect a water supply.
8 Where the historic importance or character of the interior will allow it, line the ceiling or the underside of the thatch with fire-resistant boarding to provide passive fire protection between the interior and the thatch.
9 Do not light bonfires near the house.


For further information see: Heritage Under Fire edited by Stewart Kidd, available from The Fire Protection Association, 140 Aldersgate Street, London EC1 A 4HX .

This article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 1997


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.

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