Over 25,000 chimney fires in the U.S. last year were responsible for over $120 million in property damage. Chimney fires can quickly spread into house fires in a relatively short period of time. No one ever wants to experience a chimney fire, or worse yet a fire in the chimney that spreads to other areas of the home. This is an important issue, and there are things everyone can do to protect themselves and their families from the chances of a chimney fire ever affecting them.
Have Your Chimney Cleaned
Most chimney fires happen for one simple reason: improper usage and care of wood-burning appliances. The importance of yearly chimney inspections and sweepings cannot be understated, as they are the one true way to minimize the likelihood of a chimney fire sparking in the first place. The fact is that clean chimneys simply don’t catch fire.
When wood is burnt, the emissions are expelled into the chimney. As these gases rise, they cool down and form creosote—a tar-like substance that sticks to your chimney or chimney liner. Creosote is extremely flammable and can be lit by even a small spark or floating ember from the fire below. The three most common causes of chimney fires are:
- Burning wet or unseasoned wood can increase the production of creosote.
- Failing to have your chimney swept often enough.
- Blockages in your chimney that can restrict air flow.
Knowledge is key to reducing the potential of a chimney fire happening in your home.
Indications of a Chimney Fire
A chimney fire in action can be impressive. Indications of a chimney fire have been described as follows:
- Loud cracking and popping noises
- Extensive amounts of dense smoke
- An intense, hot smell
Chimney fires can burn explosively—easily noticed by neighbors and passers-by. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney. Homeowners who have endured a chimney fire have reported being startled by a low rumbling sound, somewhat reminiscent of a freight train or low flying airplane. Unfortunately, these sounds are only made by the fires the homeowners actually knew about. During a slow-burning chimney fire, there isn’t enough air or fuel to be visible; however, the temperatures they reach are very high and can cause as much damage to the chimney structure as a more explosive fire.
Prevention Is the Best Course of Action
Your first line of defense is always prevention. Make sure you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in multiple locations within your home. Make sure you only burn dry, seasoned wood. Make sure you get your chimney swept at least once a year (more frequently is you use your fireplace more heavily). Make sure you never burn trash, cardboard or other types of waste, as these are more likely to produce sparks.
Chimney fires are a dangerous and serious problem to have, but the good news is that they are almost entirely preventable. Homeowners must be careful to only burn materials that are ready and meant to be burned. While using the correct fuel is important, a chimney fire can still occur even after taking all of the necessary precautions. This is why annual chimney inspections and sweepings are a critical part of your home maintenance routine. If your chimney is clean, the chances of a chimney fire occurring are slim-to-none. Don’t wait to call to schedule your inspection and cleaning. The CSIA-certified chimney technicians at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney will help to ensure that you and your family have a safe and happy heating season.