Fires remind region of chimney safety


January 09, 2013
MONROE — Data shows that firewood heating can save money and create tremendous warmth. Even with the outpouring of wonderful heat, steps can be taken to minimize the danger of a chimney fire.

On Friday, a minor chimney fire was reported in Monroe. Scanner traffic noted smoke, but no flames, coming out of a stack in a small wood structure in town. Responding Monroe fire fighters quickly solved the problem. No additional jurisdictions were called, and Monroe's Engine 1 was back in quarters about 35 minutes after the initial call.

A family in Candia, N.H. was not as lucky recently. The Union Leader reported that a New Year's Day chimney fire displaced a family of four and their three dogs. Extensive smoke damage rendered the house uninhabitable.

The build up of soot and creosote in the chimney generally causes chimney fires. Creosote, a tar-like, flammable substance, can stick to the walls of a chimney. If a chimney is too cool, deposits can form on the chimney wall. In some cases, a chimney can become totally blocked by creosote.

If ignited, creosote burns quickly and at a high temperature. In some chimney fires, flames have been seen shooting out the chimney.

Some tips for decreasing the risk of chimney fires include:

Annual cleaning of the chimney;

Use of wood that is adequately seasoned. This decreases the amount of water in the wood;

Getting the stack warmed quickly after initial ignition in the fire box, a move that decreases the chance that creosote will stick to the chimney;

Avoiding fires with relatively low temperatures, especially if wood is green or excessively wet. An important means to this end is making sure the fire has adequate oxygen intake;

Designing chimneys, if possible, that do not go up an outside wall. This can be important because a chimney attached to an exterior wall will be exposed to outside temperatures that can cool the stack.

Serious chimney fires can cause a collapse of the chimney. This is an even greater danger, because the fire can then quickly spread to other parts of the house.

More efficient wood stoves have been credited with a reduction in chimney fires. The better stoves burn wood more efficiently, decreasing the circumstances that lead to chimney fires. Nonetheless, it is estimated that 25 percent of all residential fires in the United States start in a chimney.

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