THOUSANDS of households across North Yorkshire are to be issued with free smoke alarms and advice on fire safety.

Almost 5,000 households a year, mainly in deprived areas of the county, will be offered them over the next four years.

The scheme is part of a four-year, £222,000 fire prevention package for the county which was announced yesterday by Fire Safety Minister Phil Hope.

The scheme, part of a national package of £25m for fire prevention announced in October, will mean a major expansion of the fire prevention work already carried out by the county's fire service.

Priority will go to vulnerable people, mainly the elderly, young families and ethnic minority groups, who, statistics show, are more at risk of house fires.

Mr Hope said that the money reaffirmed the Government's commitment to place a greater emphasis within the fire and rescue service on life-saving fire prevention activity.

"Fire and rescue services around the country know well where the fire risks are in the communities they serve - and that only too often they have to pick up the pieces from entirely preventable domestic fires," he said.

The county's fire support safety officer, Ian Hill, said professional advice, coupled with the installation of smoke alarms, was proven to be effective in reducing deaths and injuries from fire.

"We believe that this type of proactive community fire safety work has already saved many lives throughout North Yorkshire," said Mr Hill.

"By targeting help towards the elderly and the vulnerable we can make a real difference and prevent a great deal of misery and suffering."