Chimney Safety

Use your chimney wisely! 

Have you ever heard the old story that a good way to clean creosote from a chimney is to have a good chimney fire? Well, don't you believe it! Chimney fires can be your worst enemy. As the popularity of heating with wood continues to grow, so does the rate of house fires. In fact, wood stoves (and fireplace inserts) are a significant cause of house fires nationwide. These fires fall into two categories—those resulting from improper installation, and those resulting from chimney abuse and neglect.  

After the appliance is correctly installed and properly inspected, chimney abuse and neglect become the danger. Chimney abuse is strictly a user problem. Even the safest installation will cause a fire if the chimney is not properly maintained.  

Chimneys fall into two categories; site-built (masonry) and factory-built (metal). Properly made, installed, and maintained, either type will provide many years of safe service. If not properly maintained, either kind becomes a time bomb, waiting for the moment when it will create a disaster.  

What is the proper maintenance of a chimney? It begins with carefully selecting the kind of wood you will burn. The harder the wood, the smaller the creosote release into the chimney will be. Then curing that wood becomes important. Wood that is allowed to cure for three to six months after cutting and splitting will yield more heat and less creosote.  

Maintaining proper flue temperatures is also a part of good chimney maintenance. Creosote condenses onto cold chimneys while properly heated chimneys will trap much less. So burn an open fire until good flue temperatures are achieved, then make sure the fire burns hot enough to maintain those temperatures.
Any chimney should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a year. Chimneys that get a lot of use will require more frequent cleaning. Remember, soot and creosote buildup in the chimney is what flue fires are made of. Keep it clean, and you have protected yourself from this danger.  

More safety tips

Burn only wood or other recommended solid fuels.
Do not start the fire by using flammable liquids.
Be sure NOT to add insulation in the air spaces around a fireplace or chimney. These air spaces are needed for proper air flow.
Have smoke detectors installed and keep a multipurpose (A-B-C) fire extinguisher nearby.
If a chimney fire does occur, in all cases call the fire department immediately!!! Get others out of the house!
After a chimney fire, be sure to have the chimney or stove inspected for damage before using it again. 

Ash Disposal

Using the correct container is a surefire cure for ash disposal fires. Grocery bags will in many cases ignite just a few hours after they have been filled with ashes and stored in the garage. Cold ashes many times conceal hot embers within. These embers can smolder for days. When they come in contact with the bag, fire results.
Plastic trash containers are absolutely no good for ash removal. Even if the plastic trash can is lidded, the hot embers touch the side of the container, melt through, let in air, and when the air mixes with the melted plastic, a very hot fire quickly results.
Use a metal container with a lid! Place your ashes in the container, lid it, and place it away from walls, papers, and other flammables. Let it sit for a week at least before you dispose of it. In many cases, hot ashes dumped on a compost heap will start a fire with the first gust of wind. Give your ashes time to cool and dispose of them safely.

© 2022 North Rose Fire Department