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East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo
Magnifying glass (2)
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Fire caused by a magnifying glass setting fire to curtains

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Damaged caused by a fire started by a magnifying glass.

Damaged caused by a fire started by a magnifying glass.


More damage. 

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The offending magnifying glass.

The offending magnifying glass.

How this fire happened

This fire was caused by a magnifying glass that was left on a window sill, which caused the suns rays to focus onto adjacent curtains, which eventually caught fire and spread to an office desk and paperwork before involving the remaining contents in the room.

The fire occurred in a family house that was unoccupied at the time of the fire. The family had left the house earlier in the day and had not shut internal doors.

There was a working smoke alarm - however with no one in the home to hear the alarm, the fire grew to such a size that eventually, a neighbour living opposite noticed smoke coming through the roof and called the Fire & Rescue Service.

Because of the late call to the Fire & Rescue Service the fire had already caused substantial damage by direct burning to the room of origin and a room above. Unfortunately with internal doors being left open there was also serious smoke damage to other rooms in the house that were unaffected by direct burning.

The effect it had

In January 2010 my partner and our four children went out on a bright and sunny Sunday morning. When we returned at 5pm we were astounded to find that our house had been devastatingly ruined by fire and smoke.

The fire had started at approximately midday and no less that five fire engines were called to the scene approximately two hours later by our neighbours. It was obvious to us immediately that all our contents had been written off and that we had lost everything.

Within a few days we were told by the fire investigation team that the fire had almost certainly been caused by a magnifying glass, which had been placed in a south-facing window. The sun had been intense that day and very low in the sky and its rays had been strong enough to create a beam of light on our study curtains eventually setting them on fire.

The level of stress that we have had to tolerate in the weeks and months after the fire has been unbearable at times. Even now after ten months we are still living in rented accommodation whilst our house is being re-built.

I have had to attend numerous meetings with builders, surveyors and architects and of course, have had to purchase everything in order to set up home again.

When I think how our fire started it sickens me to think that it could have been prevented so easily.

Many of us think that this will never happen to us but unfortunately in our case it did. Since the fire I have talked to many people who have experienced a similar fate.

Magnifying glasses, crystals, paperweights, shaving mirrors and other glass objects can be extremely dangerous if they are penetrable by the sun.

None of these items will ever be left near a window in my house again!

Safety message

Every year, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service attends a number of fires caused by the suns rays focussing through or onto glass. In this case it was a magnifying mirror, however we have also attended fires caused by make up mirrors focussing the suns rays onto combustible items.

In property fires, this cause seems to be more prevalent during the winter months - when the sun is low in the sky, allowing its rays to more easily enter a properties window.

You should be careful when placing magnifying glass, mirrors or any other glass object capable of focussing the suns rays, in a position adjacent to windows - especially those that are south facing.

Shutting internal doors should be something that you do not only as part of a bedtime routine - but also whenever you leave your home unattended, as even a light internal door will prevent smoke and heat from damaging rooms and contents remote from the source of a fire.

Further information

We have added photos from a similar case, attended by East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, where a mirror left on a window sill focussed the suns rays onto curtains.

The final example shows a magnifying make-up mirror sitting on a dressing table which had focused the sun's rays on to a nearby curtain. In this case, luckily, the fire did not spread.

Do you have a similar story?

Finally, we would be interested to hear from you if you have had a similar experience to the fire detailed above, or would like to raise any related matters or even just generally comment on how useful you found our Black Museum.

Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.



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Latest Update :
30 January 2015
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