There were more chimney fires during March and April than during the last three years.

As a consequence of this spike insurer NFU Mutual is encouraging homeowners to check that their chimneys and flues are swept and safe.

They area also advised to carry out checks twice a year if the fire is in frequent or year-round use.

Ross Garner, home insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “While many people may associate gathering round an open fire at Christmas, over the past three years we have seen a spike in chimney fire claims over Easter. Cold, dry, spring weather provides the perfect recipe for fire, and one with devastating consequences. A trend for using stoves all year round also seems to be behind the rise.

“The increase in March and April shows just how important it is to ensure that a flue or chimney is not only swept before the first fire of the season, but if an open fire or wood burning stove is in constant use, it should be swept again.”

The insurer has warned that wood burning or multi fuel stoves, which reach high temperatures, can increase the risk of fire, particularly with thatched properties, as they send more live sparks and embers out of the chimney.

NFU Mutual's checklist to help protect your property is:

• Chimneys should be routinely checked or surveyed to ensure that they are structurally sound, well-maintained and able to cope with the demands of modern heating appliances

• Your chimney should be swept by a professional chimney sweep at least twice a year if it is in use frequently or all year round

• Your chimney lining (if you have one) should also be regularly inspected, especially when the main fuel is wood, as tar deposits are highly combustible and corrosive. A qualified chimney sweep should be able to identify potential problems at an early stage.

• Only burn seasoned hardwood

• Speak to your local fire safety officer for further advice about fire prevention

• Fit a bird guard to deter birds from building nests in your chimney

• Check the electrical system throughout your home