FIREFIGHTERS have reported a dramatic rise in chimney fires in Basingstoke and Deane.

In the last three months of 2012, 15 chimney fires were reported in the borough, up from just four in the same period in 2011. Nine of the fires were in Basingstoke.

The fires are caused when soot or creosote deposits in the chimney catch light.

Brian Rudman, group manager for the Basingstoke and Deane area, said: “We are concerned that with colder conditions expected for at least another two months, people will continue to use their open fires.

“In order to keep your home and your loved ones safe, chimneys need to be swept regularly and safely maintained.

“In the current economic climate, people are understandably looking to reduce their household expenditure but the cleaning of a chimney is essential.”

In the past year, firefighters across Hampshire dealt with around 260 chimney fires. While most were confined to the chimney, some fires spread to the rest of the house.

On December 23, a chimney fire led to extensive damage of the roof of a home in Oakley.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service advise people with fires to always use a fireguard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers, to make sure embers are put out before people go to bed, and to keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained.