A RURAL insurer has issued a warning to owners of a wood burning stove - after a couple from Devon saw their thatched cottage go up in flames. 

NFU Mutual says that with the nights getting colder, many people are turning to wood burning stoves to heat their homes. They say the number of stoves in the UK is more than 1.5 million. 

Laura and Geoffrey Parkman, NFU Mutual customers from Stoodleigh, Devon, saw their entire thatched cottage engulfed in flames in 2021. The cottage, which has been on the family farm for generations, caught fire after a spark from the log burner hit the thatched roof. 

“We lit the wood burner around 7.15pm and before long I saw some smoke drifting past the kitchen window," said Laura.

"This was unusual, so I went outside to investigate and saw smoke billowing from the thatch. At the same time, my husband, Geoffrey, who’d been outside, came running down to make sure I was OK. Thankfully, neither of us were hurt.

“In about three hours it was a total disaster. There was nothing left, which was completely horrible at the time."

The cottage has now been restored thanks to the money the pair received from NFU Mutual. 

Laura said Emily Mills from the insurer was 'brilliant', and made sure everything happened as quickly as possible. 

“Our wood burner was replaced with an electric equivalent, which was safer but kept the charm of the cottage," Laura added.

"We also took the opportunity to reconfigure the downstairs of the cottage so it works well for us in the years to come.

“Obviously this was a very bad situation and we’ve lost things we can’t get back, but the fact everything has moved smoothly and the process has been so easy has been a real boost. Two years on from the fire, we count ourselves fortunate that everything turned out so well.”

South West Farmer: The newly rebuilt cottage.

Emily, from NFU Mutual Tiverton, shared that her parents had a similar experience when she was younger. 

She said: “Around 14 years ago, my parents suffered a massive farm fire and like Mr and Mrs Parkman, we had a thatched home on the family farm. The local NFU Mutual Agent came to the house at 8.30am the next day – a bank holiday Monday – and reassured my parents, staying in contact and supporting the family throughout.

“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of simply being a friend when disaster strikes. A chat or a cup of tea can provide as much support as a discussion about insurance – not everything needs to be business.

"I am absolutely delighted that Mr and Mrs Parkman they felt supported and reassured during what I know is an incredibly stressful time.”

NFU Mutual is urging homeowners to realise the risks of having a log burner, and explains that thatched properties are at a particular risk of catching fire. 

Andrew Chalk, home insurance specialist, added: “There are two main steps to protecting yourself from a devastating fire: preventing a fire in the first place, if at all possible, and making sure you are properly insured if the worst does happen.

“Wood burning stoves are mostly a perfectly safe and viable means of heating your home, but be aware of the risks – incorrect installation, maintenance or use can have devastating impacts, from fumes escaping into the home to fire engulfing the property. This is particularly true in older properties – 90% of thatch fires, for example, relate to chimneys and the use of woodburning stoves.

“Make sure your stove is in good working condition and your chimney is correctly flued, lined and swept at least once a year to prevent dangerous build-ups of tar.

“Make sure you know your stove. Each will have an optimum temperature at which to function, which should be monitored with a stove pipe thermometer.

"Too low a heat, and heavy soot and tar buildup increases the risk of a chimney fire; too high, and dangerous temperatures risk house fires. For this reason, stoves should never be left alone after ignition and refuelling.

“As with the Parkmans, though, a fire may not always be preventable. It is therefore essential that you talk to your insurer, make them aware you have a log burner and make sure your sums insured are enough to cover you for total loss of your home and contents if disaster does strike.”