How to avoid a chimney fire

What causes chimney fires?

Chimney fires occur when deposits of carbon and dust accumulate in a chimney and are set alight by sparks or flames from an open fire. Most solid fuels create some kind of soot that without regular cleaning of chimneys builds up in the flue and eventually catches fire. Ensure that wood and turf have dried out adequately before use. This will reduce the amounts of tarry deposits these fuels produce when burned.

How are they avoided?

Regular cleaning is the only way chimney fires can by avoided. The National Safety Council recommends chimneys be swept thoroughly at least twice a year, once perhaps at the beginning of the cold weather period, i.e., after the summer /autumn, to clear the chimney of debris (bird’s nests, etc.), which may have accumulated and also to remove soot. They should also be swept mid-way through the winter to ensure a fire does not occur. Obviously the more often a fire is lit and the more varied the fuels used, the more frequently it should be cleaned. Do not rely on chemical blocks, etc. to clean a chimney. There is no better method than a sweep’s brush!

Are they dangerous?

Yes, chimney fires are particularly dangerous in that they can structurally weaken the flue liner and chimney block, causing cracks to form into which sparks may enter and so cause fires elsewhere in the house. Burning soot may also fall on carpets, etc. and set them alight.

What do I do if a fire starts?

Don’t panic! Place a spark guard in front of the fire to stop hot soot falling out. Pour water over the fire to extinguish it and keep a supply of water available, should it be needed. Phone for the Fire Department and keep a watchful eye on the fire until they arrive.

Other safety hints regarding open fires:

1. Keep a spark guard in front of open fires when the room is unoccupied.

2. Secure a spark guard to the fireplace if children are in the room, and never leave them alone with an open fire or with matches.

3. Keep fires small: Avoid banking them up too high where hot coals may tumble out onto carpeting.

4. Avoid placing mirrors over fireplaces as this attracts people, especially children, to come too close to the fire where their clothing may catch fire.

The National Safety Council recommends that chimneys be cleaned at least once a year—more often depending on use.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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