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Friday , 21 January 2022

Pesky chimney fires are easy to avoid

It’s that time of year when clouds of sweet-smelling wood smoke fill the frosty air in the Lakeland, however, the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority would like to remind residents who use wood heat to not allow a dirty chimney to bring their Christmas cheer to a grinding halt.

Let’s face a harsh reality, clean chimneys don’t catch fire and are not common in the Lakeland. However, if you use a chimney at your house regular maintenance can prevent a fire from waiting to happen. Make sure a professional chimney sweep inspects your solid fuel venting system annually, and sweeps and repairs it whenever needed. Your sweep may have specific maintenance recommendations depending on how you use your fireplace or stove. Before lighting a fire, make sure it is safe to do so. Be fire smart.

Dan Heney is the Acting Regional Fire Chief for the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority.

“We don’t have them very often but they can be devastating,” Fire Chief Heney told Lakeland Connect.

Heney says there are two major types of chimney fires:

  1. Creosote fire inside the chimney burns incredibly hot and damages the chimney structure allowing heat to penetrate the void spaces of the house.
  2. Fire of the supporting structure due to the long term degradation from heat.

“Either type of fire can have the same damaging result and is difficult to detect yourself,” Fire Chief Heney said.

Creosote is black or brown in appearance with a crusty or flaky consistency. It can be tarry, drippy and sticky, or shiny and hardened. Often, all forms will occur in one chimney system.

Chimney fires can burn explosively and are generally noisy and dramatic enough to be detected by neighbors or passersby. People who have experienced a chimney fire compare the sound of the fire to a low rumbling noise, like a freight train or low-flying airplane.

Flames have been known to shoot from the top of the chimney accompanied by dense smoke. The first indication of a chimney fire is usually the noise — a roaring sound that grows louder as the fire intensifies, reaching temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees F.

The volume of fire, smoke, and heat from this type of fire can push hot gases out of existing cracks in the chimney mortar or cause internal connectors to fail. When viewed from the exterior, large smoke volume and sparks and fire can extend several feet above the chimney.

Heney has provided some tips to Lakeland Connect for preventing chimney fires:

  • Have heating appliances serviced and chimney flues examined for defects.
  • Have fireplaces and fireplace dampers checked.
  • Fireplaces should be equipped with an appropriate screen or glass enclosure to prevent sparks from flying out.
  • Chimneys should be checked for creosote buildup by a professional. Creosote is a deposit from smoke that can build up in a chimney and can start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned woods, and avoid softwoods like Pine, etc.
  • Never use a flammable liquid to start a fireplace.
  • Never overload the hearth with wood or artificial logs, the resulting fire may be too large for the unit.
  • Put all ashes outdoors and away from the house in a metal container.

Chimney fires are simple to avoid if you take the right actions. However, in the event of a chimney fire you should never try to put it out by yourself.

“Call 911 immediately,” Fire Chief Heney said.

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is an award winning journalist and is from Whitbourne Newfoundland. Green graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, River Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner and can fillet a Codfish.