FIREFIGHTERS have warned homeowners over the dangers of wheat bag warmers after one sparked a second blaze at a Wirral home.

An elderly woman was treated by paramedics on May 2 after one of the bags was believed to have been heated in a microwave oven for longer than recommended.

The bag started a fire in the woman’s home near Birkett Road, Birkenhead.

The blaze comes months after 83-year-old Norma Hickey was killed in a fire in Wallasey in February, caused by a wheat bag.

Since the incident on May 2, firefighters have visited more than 50 homes in the area to ensure properties had working smoke alarms, provide reassurance and fire safety advice.

Watch manager Gordon Smith, who attended the call-out on Friday with Green Watch at Birkenhead community fire station, said: “The ground floor kitchen was heavily smoke-logged when we arrived at the property and we extinguished a small fire in the room.

“Luckily, smoke alarms were present in the property, activated and raised the alarm. The occupier did the right thing and evacuated the property before we arrived.

“It appears the occupier in this case left the wheat bag heating up in a microwave longer than recommended.”

Wheat bags heated in microwave ovens are a well-known way of helping bring relief to aching joints and muscles but they must be used with care.

Mr Smith added: “A product that absorbs and stores heat in this way is a potential fire risk if not used properly. For this reason it is vital to follow manufacturers’ instructions to avoid possible injury.

“If these products are used incorrectly they can be dangerous and we are urging people to follow advice on their use to reduce the risk of a fire occurring.”

Earlier this year, an investigation into the cause of the fire at a property in Village Way, Wallasey – where the body of Norma Hickey was discovered – found the most likely cause of the fire was thought to have been a microwavable wheat bag that had been overheated and then used to warm a bed.

An inquest into Ms Hickey’s death was held on April 23, with Liverpool Coroner André Rebello recording accidental death and agreeing that the fire was caused by the warmer.

Wheat bags bought in shops have manufacturers’ instructions which recommend maximum heating times.

Home-made bags can pose a greater risk because the type of wheat may be unknown and there are no manufacturers’ instructions to follow.

If a bag is kept insulated after heating - for example, under bedclothes - it may ignite.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has issued the following advice:
• Buy wheat bags with clear heating instructions from the manufacturer, and follow them.
• Buy bags which include manufacturers’ contact details if you have a problem.
• Only use as a heat pack for direct application to the body.
• Ensure your microwave turntable is working properly.
• Watch for signs of overuse, such as a smell of burning or charring.
• Leave bags to cool in a safe area and on a noncombustible surface like a kitchen sink.

• Use a wheat bag as a bed-warmer.
• Overheat the bag.
• Reheat the bag until it has completely cooled – which may take up to two hours.
• Leave the microwave oven unattended when heating.
• Put the bag away for storage until it has cooled.
• Use the bag if you see evidence of problems.