BOATERS are being warned to get smoke alarms fitted or face rapidly spreading fires which could prove fatal.

Oxfordshire County Council’s fire and rescue service is issuing the warning as part of Boat Safety Week, which aims to highlight the risks of fires on boats and the safety measures which should be taken to reduce risk.

Blazes on houseboats are rare, but firefighters in Oxfordshire attended three incidents in 2009, and one so far this year.

On January 19, a blaze destroyed a houseboat off William Lucy Way in Oxford.

Matt Carlile, risk reduction manager for Oxfordshire Fire Service, said: “On my first nightshift in 1996, I attended a canal boat fire in Wolvercote and a mother and her two young children died.

“I know only too well the potential consequences of boat fires, so we are urging the hundreds of people living in houseboats in the county to make sure they have working smoke alarms.

“With so much water around, there can be a tendency to think that there is a reduced risk of fire.

“We are taking the opportunity to remind boaters about staying safe, as part of National Boat Safety Week, which runs until Sunday.”

Mr Carlile said fires on boats could spread quickly and be harder to get to than homes on land.

He added: “There is often only one compartment and the fire can spread very rapidly.”

Judith Heathcoat, the council’s cabinet member for safety, said: “Smoke alarms buy you and your family valuable time to get out safely.”

The 10-year 365 Alive campaign, launched in 2006, aims to save an extra 365 lives in Oxfordshire, as well as saving the taxpayer £100m.

By providing fire and safety education, it is hoped to make 840,000 people safer.

Earlier this month, Environment Agency managers warned boaters not to get drunk on the waterways following a disturbance at a busy lock.

The warning came after a group of men got off a boat and started urinating near the towpath opposite the King's Arms at Sandford Lock.

Helen Page, the Environment Agency's waterways team leader, warned that a tragedy could arise from drunken behaviour on the river.

l Anyone in doubt about the alarm they need should telephone 0800 032 5999 for a free boat fire risk check.