A house fire in Kansas last week was caused by a chimney fire, which ignited nearby wood framing and started a house fire causing over $50,000 in damages. The homeowners had never had the chimney cleaned upon the advise of the mason who built the chimney and installed a heat-circulating fireplace six years ago. The mason told the homeowner that he built a "maintenance-free chimney," which never needed to be cleaned.
When asked what the chimney flue looked like prior to the fire, the homeowner described it as black and shiny. The fire inspector on site knew then what the homeowner saw. "Clay tile flue liners are an orange color. What the homeowner was looking at was glazed, baked-on creosote, which is the most flammable type of creosote. The creosote ignited and burned," said the investigator, who wishes to remain anonymous.
In addition to the bad advise about not having a chimney cleaned, the mason built the structure improperly with no clearances to the combustible wood framing of the house. "This is the reason the house caught fire and was not contained to the chimney," said the investigator. "Heat transferred to the combustible wood because there was no clearance as required by International Residential Code and NFPA 211 Standards as well as the manufacturer instructions.
Clearance requirements can vary based on the type of fireplace used. In this case, a New Aire brand fireplace furnace, which is used as the sole heating method for the home was installed incorrectly without the 4" and 8" clearances required.
The mason is now retired, and one wonders how many fireplaces he installed improperly, leaving homeowners at risk.
A quick look at the fireplace operation manual shows that the manufacturer recommends annual inspection and sweeping as necessary by a professional chimney sweep. No chimney is "self cleaning."