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Fireplace Safety, Pt. 2: Avoiding Chimney Fires

Last month, we discussed some steps to prevent your warming, cozy fireplace from becoming a dangerous fire hazard. While a burning piece of debris escaping the fireplace and igniting a fire inside the house is a frightening thought, an even more significant danger is the threat of a chimney fire.

It’s estimated that more than 25,000 chimney fires occur yearly in the United States, causing more than $125 million in damages. At the very least, a chimney fire can cause severe damage to your fireplace’s flue, chimney lining, and chimney structure. At worst, chimney fires can cause an overall structure fire, causing significant damage, injury, or even loss of life.

In this article, we’ll talk about what causes chimney fires, the types of chimney fires, and steps you can take to prevent one of these dangerous disasters from striking your home.

What Is a Chimney Fire?

Over time, compounds in the smoke and soot that your fireplace emits build up on the inside lining of your chimney. These chemicals combine with moisture in the smoke and create creosote, a hard, black, oily substance that coats the inside walls of the chimney. This highly combustible substance only needs a spark to ignite and kick off a chimney fire.

Two Types of Chimney Fire

Chimney fires all fall into one of two categories, depending on how vigorously the fire is burning:

Smoldering or Slow Chimney Fire

A smoldering chimney fire burns slowly, sometimes so slowly that it’s not noticed until long after it’s been ignited. Some slow fires can even go undetected until the next chimney inspection. Despite that, slow chimney fires can burn just as hot as fast fires and pose the same risks of structural damage throughout the house.

Flaming or Fast Chimney Fire

A fast chimney fire never goes unnoticed. Fast chimney fires emit large flames and columns of black, inky smoke. People inside a home experiencing a fast chimney fire report that the blazing fire makes a loud roaring sound, producing so much smoke that it begins to flow back into the house. Fast chimney fires can quickly turn into complete structure fires, and extinguishing the blaze is usually more difficult.

How to Prevent Chimney Fires

Chimney fires are dangerous but almost always avoidable. By adhering to these best practices, you can dramatically reduce the risk of a chimney fire:

Have Your Chimney Swept and Inspected Annually

This suggestion is the most important of these to take to heart. The absolute best way to prevent the creosote buildup in your chimney from turning into a dangerous fire is to remove the creosote. By hiring a licensed chimney sweep to clean out your flue once a year, the creosote, soot, and other chemicals accumulating in your chimney will be gone before they reach dangerous levels.

A licensed sweep should also be able to inspect your fireplace and chimney. If there is any deteriorated masonry, cracks or failed seams in the stovepipe or flue lining, or if your fireplace’s damper or other mechanical components are damaged, they’ll let you know so that you can have repairs made before cold weather sets in.

Only Burn Dry, Seasoned Wood

One way to quickly build up a thick, dangerous layer of creosote in your chimney is by burning green wood or soft, resinous woods like pine or cedar in your fireplace. Green and soft woods:

  • Contain tarry resins that increase the tendency for soot and smoke to stick to the walls of your flue
  • Are wet, releasing a lot of steam that also helps turn soot and smoke byproducts into creosote deposits
  • Burn cooler, releasing more of the chemicals that eventually become creosote

When you burn your fireplace, burn only dry and well-seasoned hardwood. Seasoned wood:

  • Contains less resin, making for cleaner, less persistent smoke
  • Is drier, reducing the moisture in the flue and inhibiting the formation of creosote
  • Burns hotter, destroying many of the compounds that make up creosote

Only Burn With an Adequate Draft

The faster smoke moves up the chimney and out of the flue, the less likely it is to build up and leave dangerous creosote deposits. When building a fire, make sure:

  • To “preheat” the chimney with burning newspaper or a hair dryer to prevent a cushion of cold air from keeping smoke trapped in the house. If the smoke from a piece of burning newspaper isn’t traveling up the chimney when you hold the paper in the fireplace, your flue is not adequately preheated.
  • To leave the damper fully open whenever there’s a fire in the fireplace.
  • To crack a window in the room with the fireplace to ensure the fire is getting plenty of oxygen to burn hot and clean.

When your fires burn hot inside a clean fireplace, you’ll enjoy a warmer winter and rest easy, knowing your risk of a chimney fire is significantly reduced.

If a Fireplace Mishap Has Left Your Home Suffering From Fire Damage, Contact the Certified Fire Damage Restoration Team at AfterCare Restoration: 215.515.1000

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How to Avoid Smoke Damage from Improper Fireplace Use

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The Benefits of Choosing an Experienced Fire Restoration Company

Ditch These Three Fire Restoration Myths for Good!

Aftercare Restoration is a local, veteran-owned emergency damage restoration company offering 24/7 fire restoration services, including fire board-up, demo, structural cleaning, odor removal, and complete rebuild and reconstruction service. We’re committed to earning your trust and ensuring 100% customer satisfaction.

Because of our expertise and reputation for 5-star customer service, AfterCare Restoration is the leader in fire damage restoration and smoke soot damage restoration in Lehigh, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. AfterCare Restoration is a certified firm by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the leading training agency in the disaster restoration industry.

Our team of IICRC-certified technicians is trained with the best methods and technology to clean up any size of fire damage and restore your property. We abide by the most stringent industry standards, meaning you can trust our team to do the job right the first time!

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