Tahoe Chief’s Corner: Preventing chimney fires
February 20, 2019
Chimney fires are a common call for local fire departments during the winter months. These fires can have devastating results, ranging from property damage to death.
What is a chimney fire? A chimney fire results from a buildup of creosote on the inside walls of a chimney or stovepipe. Creosote is produced when solid fuel is burned. When fuel (wood) is burned at a lower temperature it produces more creosote. When enough creosote is built up and the temperature is right, a chimney fire results. When the creosote burns in this rapid explosive manner, it can cause the stovepipe or chimney to fail. This allows the fire to spread into the home itself.
How can you prevent one? Just like your mother said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Clean and inspect your chimney or stovepipe annually. Prevention starts in the summer with a good chimney cleaning and professional inspection. Whether you have a fireplace, woodstove or woodstove insert, all need an annual cleaning. There are several local "chimney sweeps" in the area that can handle the job. They should also inspect the flue screen to make sure it is not clogged, damaged or the incorrect size (½ inch screen openings are recommended).
Proper temperature. Get a good woodstove/fireplace temperature gauge from a local dealer. Make sure you understand how to use it. Some are designed to sit on top of the woodstove and some on the stovepipe. The type of gauge will also depend on the type of stove, stovepipe, fireplace or chimney. It is best to take pictures and write down your specific model information (if you know it). Take the pictures and information to a reputable local dealer and get their advice.
Proper fuel. Use properly seasoned wood. Green or wet wood burns less completely and creates more creosote. Do not burn paper or other garbage in fireplaces or woodstoves. They produce large amounts of creosote.
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How do you recognize a chimney fire? The most common sign is an abnormal noise coming from the stovepipe or chimney. It is usually described as a crackling, popping, rumbling or shuddering sound. If the stovepipe or chimney become compromised, you might see smoke or flames escaping from it.
If you experience a chimney fire, evacuate the residence and call 911.
Another important point: please make sure you have several working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. You and your loved one's lives depend on it.
Sean Bailey is the fire chief of the Northstar Fire Department.