Close to 100 sauna fires were reported in the past year, the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) told weekly Maaleht, adding that the figure is rising as adequate safety measures are not in place, while obvious danger warnings are sometimes not heeded either.
Between the start of 2017 and the end of June this year, Maaleht reports (link in Estonian) of 3,150 fires in residential properties, 212 related to saunas located in internal rooms, while another 242 broke out in separate, often wooden, houses.
The problem affects both traditional smoke saunas and electric-heated versions – 71 of the blazes in the statistics quoted above relate to the latter, including those arising from faulty wiring etc, while fires due to faulty construction are even more common.
Last year there were 96 sauna fires in Estonia in the past year, Maaleht adds, with the summer months particularly affected as people head to the countryside for the long evenings.
Fortunately, the very nature of the sauna – not a place to linger for long periods of time and often housed in buildings separate from the main dwelling – mean that human casualties are rare in Estonia, Maaleht says.
Still, fires are fires, and in one case a family lost their entire sauna house, thanks to a faulty and wrongly-installed chimney, though thankfully the family were unscathed.
Aivar Kukk, chief inspector of the safety supervision office at the Rescue Board's northern district center said that: "Combustible material (wooden structure, firewood, etc.) can get too close to any part of the sauna heater - either the heater, the connecting pipe or the chimney itself," which can end in a blaze, while many newer-style electric heaters end up being bolted to the wall instead of via the fastener they come supplied with, which can mean a conflagration is only a matter of time, he added.
Another thing which can get overlooked is the comfort zone people can get into as regards a 20-year-old sauna which has functioned perfectly well all that time – signs of possible catastrophe, which include charring on internal wooden walls – must be heeded, Kukk said, while naturally risks are greater during and immediately after hot, dry summers.
Other essentials include making sure, in the case of a traditional sauna, the sauna's chimney is regularly swept by a qualified chimney sweep (korstnapühkija), while neophytes should get themselves acquainted with all aspects of sauna safety, or consult with an expert.
Many cases of fires also result from a failure to have flooring and other areas close to a fireplace protected with fire-resistant material, very risky in a situation where sparks etc. can jump out, while chimneys too should be isolated in this way – pitch coating the inside of a flue can also burn.
The original Maaleht piece (in Estonian) is here.
Maaleht is an agricultural weekly and is published by Ekspress Meedia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte