The number of house fires is dropping in the Bay - though a local fire officer is urging people to take care as winter approaches.

Residential fires in the Bay of Plenty, excluding Rotorua, fell to 97 last year, down from 118 two years ago. Tauranga fire senior station officer Neil Brown said fewer fires was a good result but he'd like to drive the number down further - and that started with fire prevention during winter.

"Going into winter, we talk about the heater metre rule. Don't put any radiant heater within a metre [of a flammable object]," he said.

Mr Brown said care also needed to be taken when disposing of ash or wood from the fireplace, which could stay hot enough to cause another fire for up to four days.


"People put ashes into inappropriate containers such as a cardboard box or a wheelie bin, and next thing we know we have an ignition source and a fire starting. We recommend a steel bucket, and it doesn't even hurt to give it a hose down as well."

Mr Brown recommended that electric blankets be checked by an electrician for any fraying or damaged wires before winter, and using good-quality multiplugs with surge protectors when plugging in multiple devices.

Fire Service national adviser Todd O'Donoghue said the fire safety and prevention message was widely understood but there were some people who did not prepare themselves for a fire event.

"There is a lot of the public who [the message] is not getting to, and they're getting complacent thinking it will never happen to them. We need people to realise that the risk of fire is actually very real, and that they need to take some responsibility for it," he said.

Mr O'Donoghue said cooking was the leading cause of house fires, followed by electrical faults.

"The single biggest cause of house fires still remains with cooking being left unattended, or people trying to cook while they're under the influence of alcohol," he said.

Mr Brown said young adults were represented highly in Bay cooking fire statistics, especially after drinking.

"Maybe a flattie comes home and decides they're hungry after they've had a couple of ales, and they go sit on the couch and fall asleep. Kitchen fires make up about 25 per cent of our fires - we keep pushing the message that you need to keep looking while you're cooking."

Nationwide, the number of residential fires had risen over the last five years but remained stable at about 3200 in each of the last three years. There were 17 fatalities from house fires last year.

The Fire Service recommends people install photo-electric smoke alarms with a built-in long-life battery.