Wheat bag fire risk warning

An elderly woman from Sydney's northern beaches got a fright when her microwave burst into flames as she was warming up a homemade heat pack.

The fire started in her Narrabeen kitchen last week after she heated up a wheat bag for more than 20 minutes, with Fire & Rescue NSW having to extinguish the blaze.

A similar fire occurred in South Coogee just two days later.

So far this year, NSW firefighters have been called out to at least eight fires started by wheat bags or heat packs.

The incidents have prompted authorities to warn consumers of the dangers of using wheat bags to warm up this winter.

NSW Fire & Rescue Assistant Commissioner Mark Whybro warns people to stay away from homemade heat packs.

"If grain-filled heat packs are used incorrectly, they can ignite and start a fire," he said on Wednesday.

These potentially deadly heat packs are commonly made at home by filling a cloth pouch with grains such as rice, wheat, oatmeal or barley.

A heated wheat bag was the likely cause of a fire that killed 80-year-old Sydney woman Margaret Rae in September 2011.

It is believed that after a couple of whiskies while crocheting in the lounge room, the former nurse headed to bed with a heated wheat bag.

A fire started in the bedroom of her Caringbah home that night, and Ms Rae died in hospital from smoke inhalation the morning after.

NSW Minister for Fair Trading Matthew Mason-Cox says anyone using wheat bags, heat packs or wheat-filled stuffed toys should be wary of the risks involved.

Heat packs should only be used for body aches, not for warming up beds, where the heat can't escape, he said.

"Wheat bags can be an effective way to treat aches and pains, (but) it is absolutely essential these products are used according to the instructions," Mr Mason-Cox said.

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