Chimney-fire season is upon us |

Chimney-fire season is upon us

Gregory Crofton

Before you throw any logs on the fire, check your chimney for flammable gunk.

With temperatures dropping rapidly at South Lake Tahoe, the fire department is asking residents to check their chimneys for creosote, a highly flammable wood tar that is often the culprit when chimneys catch fire.

It’s a yellowish to black oily liquid that gathers in chimneys of fireplaces or wood stoves. Creosote collects faster if a person burns wood that’s not dry or if a fire is denied proper air flow.

South Lake Tahoe Fire Capt. Brad Piazzo said it can ignite with a bang or a slow burn.

“It’s highly combustible,” he said. “Sometimes it’s like a jet engine with noise dramatic enough to be detected by a neighbor.”

A chimney fire can get so hot that it will melt mortar, tiles and cause flue liners to collapse. Once the infrastructure of a chimney is breached, the fire head to the wood frame of a home.

If a chimney fire is caught before it spreads outside the chimney, the best thing to do is cut off any air supply you can, call the fire department and get out of the house.

“We try to put them out as gingerly as we can, sometimes by applying water within the fire box area and allowing steam to put it out,” Piazzo said.

If the fire has spread too much already, putting it out becomes more of a challenge.

“It’s actually a harder fire for us to fight because it’s located in all your closed areas,” Piazzo said. “We’ll have to do a little damage to get to the fire, like pull Sheetrock or cut siding.”

Signs you’ve already had a chimney fire

n puffy wood tar (creosote) that has rainbow colored streaks

warped metal on a damper

collapsed flue tile

discolored or distorted rain cap

creosote flakes on the roof or ground

smoke escaping through mortar or masonry tile liners


burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash, pine needles, or christmas trees


have your chimney inspected once a year if you have fires often

build small but intense fires that burn wood completely

keep pine needles off your roof, especially if it has wood shakes

make sure the top of your chimney has a spark arrester

dispose of fireplace ash in a lidded metal container and let it sit on a concrete surface for a least two weeks before you dump it.

install a chimney thermometer

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