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Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service - Preventing, Protecting, Responding

Wheat Bag Warning

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has issued a warning over the use of heated wheat bags after a bag ignited the bedding of an elderly woman in Eccleshall.

“Wheat bags are popular especially among the elderly but can be dangerous if not used properly.  We are urging users to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and to ensure a wheat bag is not heated in a microwave for too long, or at too high a temperature.”  Carmel Warren, Prevention Manager.

The woman, who is in her 80s, was woken by a smoke detector installed in her bedroom and was able to raise the alarm. She was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by paramedics.

Carmel Warren, Prevention Manager, said: “Wheat bags are popular especially among the elderly but can be dangerous if not used properly.  We are urging users to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and to ensure a wheat bag is not heated in a microwave for too long, or at too high a temperature.”  

Investigation of fires started by microwaveable wheat bags has shown that the wheat produces an exothermic reaction and thermal runaway at temperatures above 225 degrees C. These temperatures can be reached quickly in a microwave oven working normally. But the time is significantly reduced if the turntable is not working properly or is obstructed as this may create “hot spots” within the bag.

“It appears the lady had heated a wheat bag in the microwave, noticed that it looked discoloured but had wrapped it in a towel and put it in her bed. She was later woken by a smoke alarm, found that her bedding was on fire and called her daughter who rang the emergency services. We would, of course, advise people to always call 999 first in the event of a fire. 

“This incident shows not only how dangerous wheat bags can be but also how important it is to have smoke alarms installed,” added Carmel. “It is very fortunate this lady had had a free Home Fire Risk Check by Staffordshire Fire and Rescue last July and had had smoke detectors fitted. Otherwise this could have been a very different story.”

The incident happened shortly after 11pm on Sunday and three fire appliances attended, although the fire was out on arrival. The householder was not taken to hospital.

The safety message for the use of wheat bags is:
- Always buy wheat bags with clear heating instructions as per the British Standard – and follow those instructions carefully.
- Don’t use wheat bags or heat packs as bed warmers – only use for direct application to the body.          
- Never overheat a wheat bag and do not use if any  signs of over-use eg discolouration or a smell of burning or charring.
- Ensure the microwave turntable turns freely with the bag on it and is not obstructed.
- Never leave the bag in a microwave unattended when heating.
- Never reheat the bag until it has completely cooled – which could be up to two hours.
- Leave the bag to cool on a non-combustible surface such as a kitchen sink.

To book a free Home Fire Risk Check contact: 0800 0241 999.  You can also book online at http://www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/bookyourhfrc.asp.

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