Each year in the United States, there are over 25,000 chimney fires. While some are extinguished before they can spread and cause harm, others damage homes and leave residents without a safe place to stay. If you have a fireplace in your home, it’s helpful to understand how to prevent chimney fires and what to do if you think one has started.
Have Your Chimney Cleaned to Prevent Fire
One of the most important reasons to hire a chimney sweep is that they can clear out creosote. Creosote is a leading cause of chimney fires. It is a sticky residue that is naturally produced as a result of burning a wood fire. Smoke, wood particles, water vapor, and other byproducts of fire will float up into your chimney and form condensation due to the temperature difference between the inside and outside. Creosote collects due to this condensation.
Over time, creosote accumulates and needs to be removed. It is highly combustible and once present, it can ignite and start a chimney fire. Have your chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year to make sure it is structurally safe and free from creosote build-up.
Add a Chimney Cap to Prevent Chimney Fires
A chimney cap is secured to the top of your chimney and prevents leaves, animal nests, and other debris from getting inside of the flue. Leaves and debris can rapidly catch fire when embers travel up the chimney. A properly installed cap can also eliminate down-drafts, where smoke flows back down the chimney and into your home.
Choose the Right Wood
To help prevent the risk of a chimney fire, only use well-seasoned hardwood logs. Freshly cut wood has high moisture content and leads to smoky fires and creosote build-up. Do not use fire starters that contain kerosene or gasoline, as they can combust quickly and cause a fire to burn out of control. When starting a fire, use kindling instead of glossy paper or cardboard. These can release toxic chemicals into the air in your home as they burn.
What Should You Do in Case of a Chimney Fire?
If there are flames coming out of the top of your chimney, or you hear a crackling or popping sound in the flue, there is a chance that a chimney fire could be occurring. Act quickly and immediately close the damper, alert other members of your family to leave the house, and call 911 from outside. Fire cannot burn without oxygen, so cutting off the air supply by shutting the damper and closing the glass doors, if safe to do so, can stop the fire from spreading.