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Cats were blamed for starting 107 house fires in Seoul over the past three years, leaving four people injured and causing some US$118,500 worth of damage. Photo: Shutterstock

South Korea’s pet owners put on alert after cats cause 107 house fires in 3 years

  • The fires, which occurred between January 2019 and November last year, caused an estimated US$118,500 worth of damage and injured four people
  • Owners were warned to fireproof their homes. Capital Seoul saw a fourfold increase in fires caused by household pets over an earlier three-year period
South Korea
Cat owners in South Korea have been warned to unplug their electric hobs when not in use after a spate of more than 100 house fires over the past three years were linked to the furry felines.

Between January 2019 and November last year, cats were blamed for starting a total of 107 house fires in the country’s capital, leaving four people injured and causing some 141 million won (US$118,500) worth of damage.

The curious creatures are thought to have mainly started the fires by inadvertently pressing touch-sensitive buttons that control the temperature on electric stoves, causing the appliances to overheat and catch fire, according to Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Management Department, which coordinates fire and rescue services in the capital.

Electric hobs often feature touch-sensitive buttons that can be inadvertently pressed by curious cats that are left home alone. Photo: Nora Tam

“Households with cats are advised to pull the plug on electric ranges and stoves when they leave home or protect the stove switches with some kind of cover,” said Hwang Young-joong, a fire investigator from the department.

Household pets were held responsible for 31 fires in the capital between January and September 2019, the department’s figures show – a fourfold increase from three years earlier.

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“Recently, cat-related fires are occurring continuously” said Chung Gyo-chul, a senior department official, who urged pet owners to turn off appliances before leaving home so as to prevent accidental fires started by their furry friends.

He further called on cat owners, in particular, to stow away dishcloths, tea towels and other flammable objects, as these fuel fires and could be used by agile animals like cats to access areas they might otherwise be unable to reach.

More expensive stoves will often have safety features that make them less prone to overheating and catching fire, according to an engineer from an LG Electronics service centre in Seoul, who said high-end products often include multiple layers of protection – such as requiring that buttons be pressed in an “exact three-step sequence” to turn the hob on, with an automatic shut-off that triggers if sensors detect that no object has been placed on the hob.

Safety first

Household pets around the world present an innate fire hazard, as they are often left home alone for hours at a time and do not understand the risks associated with knocking over candles, pressing switches on kitchen appliances and chewing electrical cords.

In Britain, pets reportedly caused two house fires in the space of one week in the English county of Kent, after a cat – and separately a dog – accidentally ignited gas hobs in January 2020, leaving one of the owners requiring hospital treatment.
US animal welfare organisation American Humane estimates that 1,000 house fires are started by pets every year in the United States, and advises owners to minimise the risks by pet-proofing their homes.

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“Put covers on or remove stove knobs and discourage climbing in the kitchen – an accidental nudge of a stove knob is the number one cause of house fires started by pets,” it says on the Pet Fire Safety section of its website. “By preventing your pet from interacting with a stove, you can take a big step toward preventing fires.”

Pets should also be kept away from open fireplaces and unattended candles, the organisation advised, and loose wires secured to prevent pets from chewing on them.