The number of smoking-related fires has almost doubled during the pandemic in Northern Ireland.
The 87% increase was largely due to people spending more time at home, consuming alcohol and smoking domestically when previously it would have been in a pub, a senior firefighter said.
Normal home safety visits by the fire service were replaced with telephone consultations early in the virus spread as the service sought to focus on maintaining its emergency response.
Group commander Gerry Lennon said: “People were smoking more in the house, people were cooking more but also perhaps drinking alcohol more over that time.”
During the public health emergency, the fire service has attended 28 fires caused by smoking materials – compared to 15 during the same period last year, the organisation said.
Before the pandemic, people were probably going out to pubs and never smoked in the house, Mr Lennon added anecdotally.
He said: “Now they were smoking at home.
“There is also a correlation between alcohol, and we know this at a national level, that alcohol has a part to play.
“Increased alcohol consumption went on throughout lockdown.”
Accidental fires in the home have also increased from 327 in 2019 to 376 in 2020.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has resumed its home visits when occupants are judged to be at high risk of fire, offering safety checks and putting in smoke alarms.
Officers are wearing full personal protective equipment, which is a key aspect of their core work of firefighting.
The statistics have been released as part of North South Fire Safety Week 2020, which begins today and runs for the week.
In Northern Ireland, the theme of this year’s Fire Safety Week is Safer Together through Covid-19 – focusing on how the Fire & Rescue Service has adapted to respond to emergencies and protect the community during the pandemic, including continuing to work with partner agencies to provide fire safety advice.
Paddy Gallagher, assistant chief fire and rescue officer, said: “It is very concerning that there has been an 87% increase in fires caused by smoking materials during this time, and that cooking is still the leading cause of accidental fires in the home.
“Last week we attended a tragic house fire where a young girl lost her life, and our thoughts and sympathies are with her family and friends at this time.
“As the Fire and Rescue Service, we experience first-hand the devastation fires have on families, and the impact tragic incidents such as these have on our firefighters, and we will continue to work tirelessly to reach the people most at risk to try and prevent fires from occurring.”