Fire deaths rise in England prompts 'postcode lottery' claim

Fire fighters in the West Midlands tackle a major blaze. Fire engine in the foreground. Image copyright West Midlands Fire Service
Image caption Fire fighters attended 7,000 more fires across England last year.

The number of people dying in fire-related incidents in England has seen its biggest percentage increase in 20 years.

Data published by the Home Office shows 303 people died in fires in 2015-16, a 15% increase on the previous 12 months.

Fire services in Cambridgeshire and Cumbria had the highest fatality rates.

Fire Service Minister Brandon Lewis said there had been "a long term downward trend" in fire deaths.

The figures show that in 2015-16 fire services across England attended around 162,000 fires - an increase of 7,000 from the previous year.

From these incidents, fire services recorded 303 fire-related fatalities, which is 39 more than in the previous 12 months.

The number of people dying in fires across England had been steadily falling over the past three decades, with the number of fire related fatalities being 22% lower than in 2005-06.

The Home Office says the rise in the number of deaths is due to an increase in the number of accidental fires taking place in people's homes, along with an increase in the number of fatal fires involving aircraft. The Shoreham air show disaster in 2015 led to 11 such fire related deaths.

Image copyright Steve Parsons
Image caption 11 people died in the Shoreham Air Disaster in 2015

The BBC has also found that there are wide geographical variations in the fatality rate for "primary" home fires, which are classed as being the most serious kind within a domestic setting.

Last year, the fire and rescue services in Cambridgeshire and Cumbria had the highest fatality rates, equivalent to 25 deaths occurring for every 1,000 primary home fires.

In comparison, the England average was seven deaths per 1,000 home fires.

Cameron Matthews, the Secretary of the Cambridge Fire Brigade's Union, described the figures as "heartbreaking".

"Its just not right that we now in effect have a postcode lottery.

"Here in Cambridgeshire we've had some of the highest percentage cuts in the country to our budget. We've lost experienced firefighters and it is quite clear that the government's cuts are now resulting in lives being lost."

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "We have not made any cuts impacting on our frontline service to date and so no correlation can be made.

"The number of fire deaths does fluctuate year on year but always remains in low single figures. We have the fifth lowest number of dwelling fires in the country out of all fire and rescue services and that is a good, positive story."

Data compiled by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2015 showed that the number of firefighters across England had fallen by 14.7% over the previous decade whilst fire service response times had also risen over the past six years.

The Home Office strongly refuted the claim that the rise in fire-related deaths is attributable to cuts in funding.

Brandon Lewis, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service said any death in a fire was a "tragedy".

He said: "There has been a long term downward trend in both fires and fire deaths for many years, recently reaching historically low levels."

  • This article was amended on 19 August to clarify that the chart above shows the fatality rate in the most serious dwelling fires rather than all fires.