What's inside your chimney could destroy your home - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

How to avoid a chimney fire

More than one-third of Americans use a fireplace or wood stove as their primary source of heat, and a number of homeowners use them for ambience.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), heating fires account for about 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. The cause of these fires is often a lack of cleaning.

Unlike house fires where smoke and flames shoot out of windows and walls, the fires that start inside a chimney often remain hidden. Within a short period of time, they can develop into a dangerous and deadly blaze.

"It can climb the walls and the outside of the house, so the people inside may not know there is a problem," says Captain David J. Keifer with the Wilmington Fire Department in North Carolina.  

In some cases, firefighters have to dismantle the fireplace to save the rest of the home from a fire.

Parker Wiebe remembers having a fire inside his chimney.

"It kind of freaks me out still; it's just something we would never think of," Wiebe says.  

Unfortunately, too many homeowners neglect having their chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional before using it for the first time each year. 

"A couple hundred bucks could have saved thousands of dollars in damage," says Ron Segars, co-owner of Ron's Fireside Shop

Smoke condenses inside the chimney, creating a tar-like mess called creosote.

Unseasoned or green wood is the biggest cause of this build-up, but extra-cold temperatures and a closed or cracked flue all contribute to the formation of creosote. Over time, when high heat hits this grime, a chimney fire can ignite.  

"By not inspecting it, it can mean the total loss of, or the total destruction of your house, or the total loss of the lives inside," Capt. Keifer says. 

Yearly inspection and cleaning is not a do-it-yourself job. FEMA recommends using a certified chimney specialist to take a look inside.

"I'm going to clean it and not use it," Wiebe says.

Experts say preventative care should allow you to safely keep your fireplace in use. Here are a few additional tips from FEMA:

  • Leave the glass doors open while a fire is going to keep the air circulating.
  • Never burn boxes or paper in the fireplace, which can send flaming pieces floating up into the caked-on soot.
  • Build small fires which produce less smoke and use seasoned wood.
  • Keep a chimney fire extinguisher on hand. 
  • Never leave a fireplace fire burning if you leave the house or go to bed.

"It's a shame that you seem to have to have destruction of property or loss of life for people to take it seriously," Segars adds.

The same amount of care you use to build a fire should also be used to maintain your chimney.

It is also recommended that you install a cap on top of your chimney to prevent birds or bats from getting in. Material from a nest can become material for a fire.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information: 

The following information is from FireplaceMagazine.com (Source: http://www.fireplacesmagazine.com/fireplaces-health/chimney-fire-prevention.html).

  • Chimney fires can catch on explosively, blowing flames and smoke out the top or they can be slow-burning, barely noticeable until they damage the chimney or set the house on fire.
  • Wood smoke can condense on the sides of the chimney's interior creating a tar-like or flaky substance called creosote.
  • Any wood can create creosote but unseasoned wood is a major contributor.
  • Colder than normal temperatures can encourage higher condensation of creosote.
  • Restricting the air supply can add to the problem.
  • Green wood contains more moisture than seasoned wood and it must be removed in order for the wood to burn.
  • The resulting smoke is cooler than smoke from seasoned wood and is more likely to come out of its gaseous state to condense in the chimney.
  • Cold air on the outside of the chimney cools the smoke to the point of condensation. Exterior chimney's running up the side of a house are more susceptible.
  • Good airflow helps lift out smoke before it can condense. Closing the glass doors or not opening the damper all the way restricts airflow.
  • Large, compact bundles of wood tend to produce cooler fires. Build smaller, hotter fires instead.
  • Don't burn cardboard boxes or wrapping paper. Little flaming pieces can waft up into the chimney and create a fire.
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned regularly.

The following information is from AskTheChimneySweep.com (Source: http://askthechimneysweep.com/2010/08/how-to-prevent-chimney-fires/).

  • Once a chimney fire occurs the chimney flue must be completely replaced in most cases. The fire will have likely cracked the flue tiles.
  • A bird's nesting material can catch fire in the flue system.
  • Place a cap at the top of your chimney to prevent birds or bats from entering the chimney.
  • Cracked chimney flue tiles can be impossible to detect if the chimney is not swept regularly.
  • Video inspection can reveal any cracks or missing mortar joints.
  • A chimney fire extinguisher is basically a flare which takes up oxygen in the chimney to prevent burning.

The following information is from Cornell University Cooperative Extension (Source: http://www.cce.cornell.edu/Environment/Documents/PDFs/Chimney%20Maintenance.pdf).

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Following a bad storm, earthquake, flood or lightening strike have your chimney inspected for damage inside and out.

The following information is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Source: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm).

  • More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves or other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their home.
  • Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year, often due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes.
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations or flammable material.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire to ensure that the fire receives enough air for complete combustion.
  • Close the glass doors when the fire is out to keep the chimney air from getting into the room.
  • Close the metal mesh screen when the glass doors are open which will keep embers from getting out of the fire place.
  • If your fire place does not have glass doors, make sure there is a metal mesh screen.
  • Use a stovepipe thermometer to help monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces, which could cause creosote build-up.
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace.
  • Place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in a fireplace unattended. Extinguish before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Keep your roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
  • Remove branches hanging over the chimney, flues or vents.
  • Install smoke alarms on every home level.
  • Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
  • Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.

The following information is from FEMA (Source: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm).

  • More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves or other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their home.
  • Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year, often due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes.
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Keep your roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
  • Remove branches hanging over the chimney, flues or vents.
  • Install smoke alarms on every home level.
  • Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
  • Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.    

 

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