A recent spate of celebrity house fires has put fire departments and brigades on alert on both sides of the Atlantic. However, what is disturbing about this news is that it has brought to light the fact that many fires start with no more heat than what is provided by an intense ray of sunlight. One of the people to discover this was the British model, celebrity and entrepreneur Michelle Mone. A blaze started in her home after sunlight set fire to a cheap bean bag made of fur.
Celebrity House Fires
The celebrity house fires began when the home of Pierce Brosnan went up in flames in Malibu, California, on February 12. Although the James Bond actor was unharmed, all he could do was watch his luxury home become totally engulfed in flames.
Another celebrity fire then occurred on the night of Monday, February 17, when emergency vehicles were called to the Los Angeles home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Three firefighters and their trustee German shepherd were seen waiting outside the 5,338-square-foot property, but it was unclear as to whether the celebrity couple was home at the time of the incident.
The third fire, which occurred in London, took place at the home of Michelle Mone, who is best known as an entrepreneur and designer of expensive bras and lingerie. Mone took to Twitter to tell her fans and followers what had happened.
“OMG sun coming through the window, bean bag next to mirror table…bean bag has just gone on fire,” read the first half. The second half consisted only of the following reflection: “Incredible how a house fire can start.”
Michelle Mone’s Fur Bean Bag
Michelle Mone, the 43-year-old founder of the Ultimo lingerie company, told reporters that she had made a lucky escape on Thursday, February 19, when a strong beam of sunlight reflected from her mirrored table to a fur bean bag lying on the floor of the room. She was in another room of her £2 million Mayfair, London, home at the time and was alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke and burning fur.
At first, many fans and curious parties believed that Mone had been injured in the fire, but a public relations spokesperson working for her confirmed that despite putting the fire out herself, Mone was “absolutely fine” and had escaped without any personal damage.
“Michelle is fine, and there was hardly any damage caused to her apartment,” said the spokesperson. “However, I think she is a bit concerned what could have happened if she weren’t there.”
Even after the statement was released, many fans wondered whether it was true, and others who took it for face value expressed their sympathies, concerns, and well wishes.
On the day of the fire, the sky was clear and sunny, and outdoor temperatures were unseasonably warm. Apparently, the sunlight was shining brightly through one of the windows in Mone’s home. The beanbag was near the window and a small table with a mirrored top. As the light reflected off the mirror, it became focused on a spot on the bean bag, which had a fur cover. The heat from the light caught the fur ablaze, but Mone was able to put it out before emergency services had to be called.
Fire Brigade Warns of Hazard
After the incident at Mone’s home, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) issued a public warning about the possibility of fires starting from direct sunlight. Although they are known to occur, they primarily happen during the summer. However, outdoor warmth is not a prerequisite for these fires to start.
“These incidents don’t only happen in the summer, as shown by Ms. Mone’s fire, and our statistics show that five fires have been caused that way in this winter alone,” said a spokesperson for the LFB.
The LFB stated that they had been called to 125 fires that were caused by direct sunlight within the last five years, and the most to occur in a single year was 34 in 2013. Even though it is only February, London has already experienced three fires caused by nothing but the sun.
“These sort of fires are not as rare as you would think. I’ve seen everything from sparkly doorknobs to crystal balls starting fires,” said LFB investigator Charlie Pugsley. “Crystal and glass ornaments and items such as mirror tables should be kept out of direct sunlight.”
“We wouldn’t advise that people put fires out themselves, but it is good to see that Ms. Mone is not injured,” Pugsley continued. “This shows these fires are not an urban myth. Also, make sure that you have a working smoke alarm on every level of your home.”
Last year, firefighters were called to a blaze in Romford that had started when sunlight reflected from a crystal ball, lighting a set of curtains on fire. The couple residing in the house tried to put it out but ultimately had to flee.
One year earlier, in 2013, firefighters put out a similar fire in Berkshire that occurred when sunlight reflected from a vanity mirror to a pair of curtains. While there were no injuries, the fire caused serious damage to several floors and the roof of the £3.5 million home.
Cheap Bean Bags and Fires
Even though Ms. Mone’s fur bean bag probably was not cheap, it was not manufactured with fire safety in mind. Cheap bean bags can be very risky to own because some safety standards or recommendations may have been overlooked to keep costs low.
Certain materials simply do not make good bean bag covers. While fur, cotton, and other natural fibers may be very flammable, these fabrics and materials are not widely used for bean bags. Most bean bag furniture is made from polyester or nylon.
Most synthetic fabrics do not catch fire as easily as natural materials do. Nylon and polyester must get very hot before they burn and begin to melt. Also, when cheap, thin fabrics are used, they will catch fire much more quickly than thicker covers will.
Only high-density nylon and polyester should be used for bean bags. This not only makes them safer from catching fire but also provides added durability and water resistance.
Just to be safe, you should never treat a bean bag differently from any other type of furniture. All furniture should be kept away from fireplaces, candles, heaters, radiators and open flames at all times. Also, it is a good idea to keep furniture away from direct sunlight and mirrors that reflect sunlight.