Fire and Emergency NZ is urging people to be extra vigilant after spike in fatal house fires

May 2021 has been one of the worst months on record for fatal house fires.

Six people have already died, when typically the country sees about nine deaths per year.

Fire and Emergency NZ is still investigating the causes of the fatal fires but is urging people to be extra vigilant, especially as the country heads into the cold winter months which usually means a spike in fires related to heaters.

Just two metres away from baby Chloe Biggs' cot, there is a burnt-out heater and a white wall charred by flames.

Her father Aidan Biggs' cell phone footage revealed just how close his baby's room was to going up in flames last winter.

"If it had been going for another one or two minutes it would have got the curtains which would have meant we would have lost the house and probably would have lost Chloe as well," Biggs said.

The cause, an old heater which caught fire due to an apparent malfunction.

Fortunately, Biggs was able to save his daughter and put the fire out before it spread.

"Smoke was sitting about here [waist height], it was black, black, black smoke," Biggs said.  

The Biggs family are lucky but many others aren't, especially this month.

"The six fatalities we've had in May makes May 2021 one of the worst months we have on record," national fire risk management advisor Peter Gallagher told Newshub.

However, not all of those fires can be linked to heater use.

As we head into winter, Fire and Emergency is urging safe usage to prevent avoidable deaths with simple tips like keeping bar heaters away from the couch.

"When we get less than a metre, there is so much heat on [the couch] we're likely to set fire to the couch," Gallagher said. 

And not hanging clothes above a modern convection heater is advised, he added. 

When Gallagher was asked how often people put a convection heater under a clothes horse, he responded with: "Well this is actually quite common."

But he told Newshub that fires aren't the only risk from heaters.

"It's common for people to come and place the damp towel on top of the column heater. It's gonna slowly start to burn and as it does so it's gonna give off carbon monoxide. It'll put you into a deeper sleep and you'll never wake up," Gallagher said. 

He added that it's also a good reminder to check smoke alarms are working.

But what if heaters malfunction? 

Chloe's mother Gretta Biggs says: "If there's an inkling that it's not right, don't use it."