October is Fire Prevention Month and it draws attention to the risk of house fire caused by flammable creosote in chimneys. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council warns homeowners to hire a professional chimney sweep to do annual chimney maintenance in order to avoid a hazardous fire.
Midwest Chimney Safety Council President Steve Hoover of Lucky Sweep Service and Sales in Versailles, Missouri said “All wood creates flammable creosote which needs to be removed in order to avoid chimney fires.” Creosote forms on flue walls when any type of wood is burned. The MCSC recommends using dry hard or soft woods for burning, but any type of wood creates creosote, which is something wood-burners need to be aware of.
Steve recommends that homeowners call a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep for annual chimney sweeping and inspection service on fireplaces and wood stoves if used for supplemental heating. Wood stoves used for primary heating may need to be swept twice during the season in order to maintain proper draft for good stove performance, and to avoid fire. He says “A professional can best advise the homeowner after evaluating an appliance and chimney system."
Chimney fires can cause costly damage to a masonry or metal chimney. Steve Hoover said “In most cases, after a chimney fire there will be internal hidden damage to a chimney that could be a potential hazard. It is important to have a chimney inspected after a chimney fire has occurred.”
The Chimney Safety Institute of America certifies chimney sweeps. The program trains professional chimney sweeps in the trade, and is the only nationally recognized certification available. The CSIA is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and has in-house training available in a one-week program where sweeps get hands-on practice doing chimney sweeping and inspections and learn codes, chimney construction, safety, and clearances. After initial certification, 48 CEU credits are required every three years in order to maintain the credential.
Over 14,000 fires occur annually due to lack of maintenance on chimneys serving fireplaces and wood-burning stoves and inserts, according to the National Fire Protection Association. All of these fires could be avoided with regular maintenance and inspection by a trained professional chimney sweep.
Signs of a chimney fire:
Loud, roaring or freight-train like sound coming from the chimney
Sudden backup of smoke in to the home
Sudden change in draft
Flames shooting out the top or sides of the chimney
Cracking or popping sounds (flue tiles breaking)
Creosote falling into the fireplace
What to do during a chimney fire:
Close off any air inlets or glass doors to cut off the air supply
Use a chimney fire extinguisher if available
Get out of the house
Call the fire department
Call a professional chimney sweep to remove burnt creosote and inspect for damages
It is a good idea to keep watch for any signs of smoking or fire after the fire department has left. Sometimes hidden combustibles around the chimney can smolder for hours or days without the homeowner's knowledge.
For more information and to find a qualified chimney sweep visit www.mcsc-net.org.