Claims for domestic fires have risen to record levels for the first six months of the year, says the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Domestic fire claims rose to £140m for the first six months of the year compared to just £190m for the whole of 1994.

The figures coincide with a Home Office report which finds an alarming number of smoke detectors in the home are ineffective because people fail to install batteries.

Home Office statistics found that 44% of all cases where a smoke detector did not work occurred because there were no batteries.

In other cases, the smoke detector was not activated because the fire was isolated to one room.

"The fire was in the kitchen but people only have a smoke detector in the bedroom," explains ABI spokesperson Malcolm Tarling.

Commercial fires have also risen dramatically over the past few years. There were £602m claims in 1998 compared to £424m in 1994. Much of the rise is attributed to large fires in isolated industrial estates and shopping centres where blazes can quickly spread.