Here we are again! Chimney fire “season”.

Two common causes for these fires occurring more often in late December and early January:

  • Burning of wrapping paper and old trees after Christmas.
    – Burning materials aside from the designated fuel can result in a devastating chimney fire, but in reality, even apparently safe burning can result in such an irritating inconvenience.
  • Lack of service (routine, regular chimney sweeping).
    – Our tendency for procrastination puts off annual service and then (at the last minute before the need for holiday fires) there’s no way to get an appointment and we think, “well, we really haven’t used it THAT much. It’ll probably be ok…..”

 

Anatomy of a Chimney Fire

Anytime wood burns, it creates by-products of combustion. These materials include smoke, soot, carbon monoxide, and creosote. The build-up of creosote is responsible for chimney fires. Creosote can be black or brown in color and flakey or slick in texture. Any combination of traits is highly flammable. With every fire in the fireplace or stove, creosote condenses along the interior of the chimney, building to increasingly dangerous levels. A stray spark or ember, from burning wrapping paper for example, can easily ignite the creosote, turning an innocent, homely fire in your fireplace into a catastrophe.

Creosote burns at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is four to five times hotter than traditional wood fires. This extreme heat and the other chemical traits of creosote make these fires very difficult to extinguish quickly. Resulting damage can include melted mortar, cracked bricks, cracked flue tiles and exposed woodwork in the house. Once the woodwork catches fire, the house could very well burn to the ground, costing thousands of dollars in damage and potentially injuring or killing people inside the house.

While chimney fires often create noteworthy displays of light and explosions, they can also be secretive and slow-burning, causing damage without alerting anyone. A chimney sweep will look for signs of a chimney fire, including smoke leaking through the masonry materials, honeycomb textured creosote, discolored chimney components, and heat damaged roofing. Generally, chimney fires will leave severe damage in their wake and require extensive repairs. Sometimes it could even require entire chimney rebuilds, in order for the chimney to function safely again. These are not inexpensive repairs, so avoiding chimney fires would be a worthy goal.

Fortunately, chimney fires are, for the most part, preventable.

  • First, current fire safety standards mandate an annual chimney sweep, which involves the removal of built-up creosote from the interior of the chimney.
    – For fireplaces and stoves that experience heavy use, experts recommend more frequent sweeps, if need is indicated.
  • Second, burning the proper fuel for the fireplace or stove goes a long way toward reducing creosote buildup in the first place.
    – Burning wood that has been properly seasoned cuts down on creosote buildup, as well as burning more hardwoods than softwoods. Avoid burning freshly cut wood – like an old Christmas tree – and any kind of papers or decorations, which burn very hot and can emit sparks and embers.

For more information on preventing chimney fires, visit our Company Blog page. In the search box on that page, type “chimney fire”. That will get you started.

To schedule a routine chimney sweep in Upstate South Carolina, contact Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps.