Wood crackles and pops over a slowly churning fire. The winter air billows into the front door and you can hear the faint noise as it hits against the home. But you don’t have to worry, you’re covered by the warmth of the fireplace.
Sitting in front of a warm fire is a past-time that people have enjoyed for centuries. It’s a pleasure that heats the home during the winter months, and it forms a center-piece for family and friends to congregate. But anytime there is fire involved, there’s a threat of a dangerous fire-induced situation.
Chimney fires can cause structural damage to chimneys and houses, destroy homes, cause injuries, and worst case scenario, death.
Not taking care of a chimney can also cause CO poisoning or a chimney that fails earlier than it should.
FEMA says that confined fires, fires from chimneys, flues, or fuel burners accounted for 84 percent of home heating fires. They say that 29 percent of the non confined fires — these are fires that moved farther than their original location — occurred when heat sources (like a fireplace) were too close to flammable objects
The good news is, chimney fires are preventable.
The Beginning of a Chimney Fire
Creosote, a byproduct of fire burning inside of a chimney, leads to most chimney fires. This material is black, sticky, and resembles tar. Creosote can be removed from a chimney through a routine cleaning by chimney sweeps.
Chimney fires spread to the structure of homes via chimney liners and other structural issues that let high temperatures, sparks, and embers land on combustible areas like roofs, attics, and walls. This can be prevented by making sure that anytime a fire is burning, you are using liners and glass casings.
Other prevention measures include using seasoned or dried wood, and only burning newspaper and dry kindling. Never burn materials that aren’t meant to start fires, and never use gasoline or kerosene to get the fire going.
Recognizing that a Chimney Fire is Taking Place
According to CT sweep, over 25,000 chimney fires account for over 120 million dollars worth of property damage each year. And unfortunately, chimney fires can repeat themselves. If a fire does occur, you’ll need to ask a chimney professional what the cause was so you can fix the problem.
A slow burning chimney fire is the lighter version. These fires are quiet, but just as dangerous. These fires burn slowly at high temperatures and catch portions of the home that are combustible on fire. They also cause structural damage.
If you’re sitting around the chimney or outside and you begin to hear loud noises, you have a free burning fire on your hands. These fires sound like a freight train or roaring, low flying airplanes. These fires are accompanied with billowing smoke that will likely be spotted by neighbors and passerby’s. A peaceful fire should only omit crackling and simple sounds.
Other signs that a chimney fire is taking place is dense smoke, flames, and an intense, hot smell billowing from the top of the chimney.
Proper Response and Prevention
Similar to any other home-fire emergency, if a chimney fire is taking place, evacuate the home immediately and call 911 and the fire department.
If it’s possible and safe, you can make an effort to cut the air supply that leads to the chimney by closing the damper on the chimney and any pipes to try and smother the fire. Also close off the doors to any grate fire.
Once you’re outside of the home, take a water hose and spray it on the roof on the surrounding areas by the chimney so the roof and structure don’t catch on fire. After the fire is out, you’ll need to monitor the wall temperature of the home (any walls closest to the chimney) to make sure that no other part of the house catches on fire.
The best way to prevent a chimney fire is to stay on top of maintenance. Have routine inspections and cleanings to remove excess creosote and ask inspectors if anything needs to be repaired or replaced.
Slow-burning chimney fires do frequently go undetected until a chimney inspection happens. These can reach high temperatures and cause structural damage to chimneys.
Hire a CSIA certified chimney sweep and have them inspect the chimney and the solid fuel venting system every year.