Sun’s reflection nearly causes major fire

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has issued a safety warning after a resident averted a major fire when a mirror reflected the sun’s rays onto fabric.

Vanessa Fowler, who lives on the West Hill, was running late when she smelt what she describes as ‘burnt sugar’. Unsure of where the smell was coming from she looked outside and around her home. She then entered her bedroom where the strange smell was stronger and discovered its origin. She said: “I could see a piece of fabric smouldering, I could see the red on the edges of the burn and immediately put it out.”

The fabric was in a bowl containing make-up and scarves which was standing on top of a wooden dresser. Vanessa said she was confused as she could not work out how the fire had started but then noticed that a new double-sided mirror (with five times magnification) was reflecting the sun’s rays. She said: “The mirror was facing south and it was noon so the sun was at its strongest. It’s crazy, you just don’t think of turning mirrors around. I was shocked, if I’d left when I’d intended I could have lost everything. It would have been a massive fire.”

Neal Robinson, head of community risk management, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The sun’s rays can be magnified and become focused on a nearby object such as curtains, clothing or even furniture, fixtures or fittings. This can cause scorching and in some cases, lead to a fire. In the evening, morning and during the winter, when the sun is lower on the horizon, the shallower angle at which the sun’s rays hit the earth means that it is particularly important to be careful. Our advice is not to have glass items or mirrors in direct sunlight.”