In light of the Farmer's Almanac prediction for a long, cold winter in most of the U.S. the Midwest Chimney Safety Council expects more chimney fires during the 2013 - 2014 season than in recent years.
Chimney fires are caused by the accumulation of flammable creosote in the smoke chamber and flue which can ignite when flame or sparks escape the fireplace or fire chamber..
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.
Steve Hoover, president of the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, 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.
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.