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Beware of Chimney Fires

By Olivia Drake.

chimney-fire-1‘Tis the season for enjoying a cozy crackling fire with family or supplementing a home’s heat with a wood burning stove. But with these seasonal comforts come the risk of a chimney fire.

Each year, approximately 27,000 house fires start in chimneys or fireplaces, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 2015-16, Haddam Volunteer Fire Company responded to more than a dozen chimney fires in the area alone. If not tended to quickly, the chimney fire may extend into the walls or attic of the home causing a structure fire.

“Most chimney fires are preventable. It’s all about maintenance,” said Haddam Volunteer Fire Company Chief Sam Baber. “You don’t see the oil in your car, but you know it needs to be changed every 3,000 miles or so. Chimneys are the same. In time, creosote builds up and although you can’t see it, it’s there. It’s very important to get your chimney annually cleaned and inspected.”

Creosote buildup is caused by the by-products of combustion – the substances produced when wood burns. That smoke going up the chimney is loaded with gases, unburned wood particles, water vapor, hydrocarbon, tar fog and minerals. As these substances exit the fireplace or wood stove, condensation occurs and creates a sticky buildup inside the chimney’s flue.chimney-fire-2

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, indications of a chimney fire may include a loud cracking and popping noise; dense smoke; an intense, hot smell; and a low rumbling sound similar to a freight train or low-flying airplane. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney.

“If you wake up in the middle of the night to any indications of a chimney fire, call 911 immediately and exit the home,” Chief Baber said.

On a chimney fire scene, firefighters will likely access the chimney from the roof and drop heavy chains into the flue to knock down any burning creosote. Firefighters inside the house will collect the burning debris and remove it from the home. They will often ventilate the home with powerful fans, monitor the home for high carbon monoxide levels, and use a thermal imaging camera to locate any “hot spots” in the walls surrounding the chimney. Finally, firefighters will request that the homeowner calls a professional chimney sweep.

“As we head into the winter season, we have a lot on our agendas; family and friend get-togethers, traveling, baking and decorating,” Baber said. “But we also need to focus on staying safe this holiday season.”

(Pictured are chimney fires that took place in Haddam in 2014-16).