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Chimney Fire Safety and Prevention

Fire Damage
Author: ServiceMaster Restore

You're planning to spend a relaxing evening at home, surrounded by family and friends. The soothing crackle in the fireplace calms your living room and brings everyone together. Soon, though, you start to hear loud snapping or popping noises and almost feel as if a train is passing right through your home. An intense, hot smell radiates throughout the room, and then it hits you: your chimney is on fire. Although it may seem terrifying and even unbelievable that you might need to know how to put out a fire in your chimney, chimney fires and related events happen more often than you might think. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), there were 22,300 chimney fires annually between 2011 and 2013. Without the necessary precautions, chimney fires have the potential to damage structures, entirely destroy homes and even harm your family or neighbors. Learn more about chimney fires and what you can do to prevent one in the first place with tips from the home health experts at ServiceMaster Restore®.

WHAT DOES A CHIMNEY FIRE SOUND LIKE?

Indications of a chimney fire include loud cracking and popping noises, a lot of dense smoke and an intense, hot smell. Although chimney fires mostly burn explosively, they can sometimes burn slowly – you may not even notice you have one until it starts to do serious damage.

WHAT IS CREOSOTE?

Smoke, water vapor, gases, unburned wood particles, hydrocarbon, tar fog and minerals are meant to exit the chimney. Once condensation occurs, it creates a sticky, thick residue known as creosote that sticks to the inner walls of your chimney instead. Creosote is highly combustible and a buildup could easily spark a chimney fire.

HOW CAN I PREVENT A CHIMNEY FIRE?

Regularly follow a few simple steps, and it will be much easier keep your chimney safe from catching fire.

  1. Clean your chimney regularly. Getting rid of excess creosote helps ensure that your chimney doesn't spontaneously catch fire. You can do this annually with a simple chimney brush, an extension pipe, and chemical creosote removers, or you can call professionals to deep clean your chimney for you.
  2. Never put trash, Christmas trees or cardboard in your fire. These items can cause increased smoke and creosote buildup and even spark a chimney fire.
  3. Only use completely dry or seasoned wood. Unseasoned wood requires more energy to burn, which means cooler smoke will flow up your chimney and deposit higher levels of creosote. Moist wood also won't burn as hot and will cause more smoke, accelerating the buildup of creosote in your chimney. As a rule of thumb, it takes about 6 months for freshly cut wood to be dry enough to burn.

HOW DO I PUT OUT A CHIMNEY FIRE?

In the event that your chimney does catch fire, call 9-1-1 immediately. Only after you call for help should you try through the following steps, provided that it's safe to act:

  1. Alert everyone in the house that there's a fire and direct them to move outside immediately.
  2. Use a chimney fire extinguisher. Specially designed to combat chimney fires, a chimney fire extinguisher is your first line of defense. Carefully read and follow the manufacturer's instructions before use.
  3. Close the doors. Cutting off the oxygen supply may suffocate the fire before it gets out of hand.
  4. Check for sparks outside that may shower out of the top of your chimney. In certain circumstances, the sparks could ignite your roof or nearby combustibles, so it's best to keep the fire localized.
  5. Use a garden hose to spray water around the chimney and reduce the risk of your roof catching fire if firefighters haven't arrived yet and you aren't putting yourself in added danger.

We sincerely hope these tips help you avoid a chimney fire in your home this season. If the unthinkable does happen, remember that the home restoration experts at ServiceMaster Restore® are always here to help you through from crisis to resolution as quickly and painlessly as possible.