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Preventing Chimney Fires: How to Stay Safe

January 8, 2023

There is nothing better than cozying up to a warm fire on a cold winter’s night.  The sound of the crackling flames helps us to relax and takes the chill away.  However, as we enjoy the roaring blaze, danger may be lurking. A chimney can quickly catch fire and spread to the rest of our home, causing extensive damage.  Here are some facts you need to know to stay safe.

What Causes Chimney Fires

A dirty chimney is to blame for most chimney fires.  When you burn wood, the smoke contains unburned wood particles. As smoke rises up the chimney, it leaves condensation on the walls of the flue lining in the form of creosote, a black or brown substance.  Creosote builds up in your chimney each time you light a fire and is highly flammable.  It takes just a one-eighth-inch buildup of creosote to spark a fire.

Types of Chimney Fires

There are two types of chimney fires: the fast burn and the slow burn.  Signs of a fast-burning fire include loud popping noises or a low rumbling sound; large plumes of black smoke or sparks coming up through the chimney top; and an intense, hot smell.  If you have a slow-burning fire, it may not be visible. They often go undetected until a chimney inspection, but can still cause plenty of damage.

Signs of Chimney Fires

There are several tell-tale signs that your chimney has previously caught fire.  These include a “puffy” or “honey combed” creosote; a discolored or distorted rain cap; warped metal on the damper; evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners; cracked or collapsed flue tiles; tiles with large chunks missing; and a heat damaged TV antenna.

 How to Prevent Chimney Fires

  • The first line of defense against a chimney fire is to schedule an annual chimney inspection and cleaning.
  • Burn only dry, properly seasoned firewood. Wet or green wood is a major contributor to creosote production and buildup.
  • Make sure the chimney is properly lined and the liner is in good shape.
  • Have a quality chimney cap installed to keep outside debris out.
  • Make sure the chimney gets enough air. Keep the damper fully open while a fire is burning.

Chimney Maintenance Tips

It is crucial to keep your chimney in working order.  Here are some important safety tips.

The fireplace damper must function properly.   If it doesn’t fully close when the fireplace isn’t in use, outside drafts will get into your home and impact your electric bill.  The damper must always be able to stay open during a fire.

Waterproof the chimney.  Moisture and the elements can weaken the structural integrity of your chimney, cause mold and even damage the walls and floor by the fireplace. Add a water sealant to the outside of the chimney to waterproof it.

Do a regular sweeping.  A good rule of thumb is to clean the chimney after every 50 burns.

How often you have it cleaned will depend on how much you use it.

Get an annual inspection.   Problems won’t always be spotted with the naked eye. You need a professional to do a thorough chimney checkup once a year.

Gas Option

Gas log fireplaces burn much cleaner than wood burning ones.  They produce less harmful smoke and are extremely energy efficient.  Since a gas log fireplace burns up to 99% of the gas used, there’s less soot in your chimney, and less chance of a fire.

Let Us Clean it Up

When it comes to water, flood or fire damage,  Flood Department is here to help. We provide water damage repair and clean-up services for homeowners and businesses in  Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.  For immediate assistance, call us at 301-829-2600 or visit us online.


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