Electric blanket warning after lucky escape

Jessica Labhart
Jessica Labhart

“There was a small golden glimmer to the right of my face. I thought I was dreaming. But when I opened my eyes, I jumped. The golden glimmer wasn’t a warm dream, but flickering flames, right next to my head.”

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is continuing its two-month electrical safety campaign, Watts the Danger, highlighting the many ways residents can protect themselves from experiencing a fire at home.

To demonstrate just how important it is to check and replace your electric blankets regularly, member of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue staff, Jessica Labhart, has spoken about a time when she awoke to find her mattress on fire following a fault.

“I still don’t know what woke me up at that time – it was about 4am,” Jessica, who was 22 at the time, said.

My mom always says it was my late father, giving me a poke.

“But either way, I’m thankful for the jolt into consciousness that made me realise my electric blanket was on fire underneath me.

“I was even more thankful the jolt came before the flames took hold of my hair which was helpfully fastened in a ponytail to my left.

“The fire had started in the plug, travelled up the wire and passed into the blanket which I was lying on.

“The flames had just begun to emerge from the right corner of the mattress when I opened my eyes.

“I immediately called out my little sister’s name; Emily, 19, who for the first time in her heavy-sleeper life actually got out of bed when she was called.

“‘I never heard your voice sound like that,’ she said to me afterwards, ‘I just knew something was wrong.’”

“Thankfully, Em’s electric blanket hadn’t malfunctioned, otherwise I’m not convinced she would have woken up” Jessica said.

“The smoke was dark black in my room when I shouted at Em to stay in the landing as I came out and shut the door behind me.

“I told her to run across the road to our uncle’s house, while I stupidly, went into the bathroom to wet a towel.”

Explaining why she decided to try and deal with the fire herself, Jessica said: “My main thought process was that I wanted to do some damage control – especially given that mom was out of the country at the time and I dreaded the fire spreading.

“Besides, I thought, the flames weren’t that big.”

Except, when Jessica put the towel wet towel on them, the flames immediately expanded, catching on the curtains behind the bed, leaving her unable to access the plug socket to disconnect the blanket.

“No matter the cause of the fire, it’s vital that you do not try and tackle it yourself.

“Working smoke alarms will help with early detection and as soon as you become aware of a fire, exit the building while closing the doors behind you as you leave.”

Howard Watts, Director of Community Safety

To use an electric blanket safely, Howard and the fire service recommends that they should be stored flat, rolled up or loosely folded, to prevent damaging the internal wiring. 

They should be unplugged before you get into bed, unless it has a thermostat control for safe, all-night use. 

They should ideally not be bought second-hand, checked regularly for wear and tear and if the blanket is more than 10 years old, you should consider buying a new one.

“I ran down the stairs, grabbed the cordless phone from the hallway and went to stand on the drive way. Em was across the road by my uncle’s house as I called the fire service,” Jessica added.

“Then we heard a ‘pop’.

 “Later, we laughed about that, because the ‘pop’ was my pillows exploding, which covered the entire top floor with blackened, scorched feathers.

“‘Who killed the chicken?’ our nan said afterwards when she entered the house after the fire had been safely put out.

“But, in the present moment, the flames were still going and we’d forgotten to close the doors.

“Our neighbour, a security specialist, had not long got back from her night shift and saw us on the driveway.

“She spoke to us, realised we’d left the doors open, covered her face with her fleece and ran inside to close them before running back out again.

“Once the fire engines arrived, I called mom. 

“She told us not to worry about the house, as long as Em and I were okay, though later she revealed her legs had buckled from underneath her when we told her the news.

“After the fire crews had put out the fire, I realised we were in shock,” Jessica said.

“Our feet were cut from running barefoot on the gravel driveway and we were freezing.”

When the house was safe to go into, it was clear that the smoke had damaged more than the flames had.

“The walls in the whole house were black, there were feathers everywhere and my bedroom was completely destroyed,” Jessica said.

“The fire fighters showed me to my room and I jumped out of skin every time their torches flickered – they reminded me of the flames.”

It took about eight months to repair the damage.

Most of Jessica and her sister’s belongings ended up in a skip, too fire-damaged to keep.

And 10 years later, the blaze still affects the Wolverhampton-based family.

“I’ve only just got used to seeing and having candles in my house – because I don’t like the flames,” Jessica said.

“I always tie my hair up when I go to bed.

“And of course, no one in our family has electric blankets anymore,” she added.

Your blanket should be replaced with a new one if:

  • Fabric is worn or frayed
  • Scorch marks or discoloration areas are visible on the fabric
  • Wires are visible or poking through the fabric
  • There is damage to the flexible cord between the supply plug and the control and/or the control to the blanket
  • The control is making a buzzing sound when switched on and/or is giving off a smell
  • The connector fitted to the blanket is damaged or over-heat.