Up to 500,000 fridge freezers could be posing serious fire risks in homes and businesses across the country, safety experts have warned.
Fire investigators from London Fire Brigade said that a fire in the capital last week, which was thought to have been caused by a lightning strike, was in fact caused by a faulty appliance manufactured by Beko.
In a statement, the brigade said that the blaze served as an urgent warning of the serious risks posed by up to 500,000 faulty fridge freezers in homes and businesses across the country.
There are believed to have been 20 fires in the capital alone involving the fridge freezers since 2008. These fires have seen 15 people injured and one person die.
Steve Turek, assistant commissioner for fire safety regulation, said: "Any fire can be lethal but the London Fire Brigade is particularly concerned about this because fires involving any sort of fridge freezer develop rapidly and produce an enormous amount of toxic smoke.
"Expert fire investigators have had to work for a long time to confidently establish these faulty fridge freezers as the cause of a number of serious fires. Having established this link, we have worked closely with Beko to ensure the public is kept safe. However, the brigade urges everyone who has a Beko fridge freezer to check it is not one of those highlighted by the company as potentially faulty. I would also urge everyone to make sure they have a working smoke alarm in their house."
Over the last three years the brigade's fire investigation team has been working to establish the link between a faulty defroster timer switch on the appliances and a number of house fires.
The problem occurs when water gets into the defrost timer switch in the fridge freezer, which can lead to an electrical malfunction resulting in plastic components and other highly flammable insulation inside the appliance catching fire.
The brigade formally alerted Beko to the problem in June 2010 and the manufacturer has now begun trying to locate the products so that the fault can be corrected. However, the brigade believes more needs to be done to alert people to the potential danger, the statement said.
A Beko spokesman said: "Since becoming aware of the issue, Beko has been working closely with the London Fire Brigade and Trading Standards to identify the issue and the best method of reaching all affected consumers and arranging a modification. We have contacted all retailers who sold these products to seek their help in identifying affected customers from their sales records. This has allowed us to mail these customers to make them aware of the issue and to urge them to contact our freephone number to arrange the modification."