Here are some questions you need to resolve if you are going to heat with wood this winter:
1. Do you know how to recognize a chimney fire when it happens?
2. Do you know what to do when you have a chimney fire?
3. Do you have the materials ready to deal with a chimney fire?
Chimney Fires can be prevented
The most important thing you can do is to have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep. The National Chimney Sweep Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America are two sources for locating certified chimney sweeps in the US.
Both of these web sites are excellent places to find information about chimney safety.
Having your chimney cleaned removes creosote buildup and keeps the smoke passageway open so your fire can breathe properly.
A full inspection is just as important as the cleaning job. Chimney damage or plain old wear and tear needs to be discovered and repaired to make your chimney safe for the heating season.
Prevent Chimney Fires by burning dry fuel only
Using firewood that is not fully seasoned is the main cause of creosote buildup inside of chimneys. Creosote inside a chimney is what burns with a hot fire that damages the chimney and can start a house fire.
· Burn only dry wood that has been seasoned at least six months.
· A small hot fire is better than a big slow burning fire for keeping the chimney clean.
· Burning plastic, Christmas trees, cardboard and other materials can ignite creosote inside the chimney.
What does a chimney fire look like?
A bad chimney fire will have a big cloud of dense smoke billowing out of the chimney and have flames or sparks shooting out of the top of the chimney. Because you are inside the house, you may not see a chimney fire.
Noise and hot smell are the other two indicators. When you have a chimney fire, you may hear a loud crackling or popping noise. A bad chimney fire will make a loud rumbling or roaring noise. It may sound like a freight train or a jet engine.
Warning: a small chimney fire can go un-noticed but burn hot enough to damage the chimney. A damaged chimney can let fire migrate to the house.
What to Do if You Have a Chimney Fire
If you realize a chimney fire is occurring, follow these steps:
1. Get everyone out of the house, including yourself
2. Call the fire department. If you can do so without risk to yourself, these additional steps may help save your home. Remember, however, that homes are replaceable, lives are not.
3. Put a chimney fire extinguisher into the fireplace or wood stove. Close the glass doors on the fireplace. Close the inlets on the wood stove. Use a garden hose to spray down the roof (not the chimney) so the fire won’t spread to the rest of the structure.
This information is taken directly from the Chimney Safety Institute of America web site.
What to do to be ready for a Chimney fire
Chimney Fire Extinguisher sticks used to be made that worked like a railroad flare. You struck it to light it, like a flare. Then you tossed it into the fireplace or stove.
The chemical smoke from the extinguisher stick would put out the chimney fire. They have been out of production or a number of years so any that are available are too old to trust.
If you are heating with wood, you should have a large dry chemical fire extinguisher fully charged and ready to go. Get a bigger extinguisher than is normally found in homes. One in the ten to twenty pound size range is recommended.
Store the fire extinguisher by the door of your house, not by the fireplace or wood stove.
When you have a fire, your first action should be to get everyone out. Then after calling for help evaluate the situation. If you decide you can safely fight the fire, pick up the extinguisher on your way back in.
With the fire extinguisher by the door, you can get it ready from a safe distance and then move toward the fire with your back to the escape route. Discharge the fire extinguisher into the fireplace or wood stove.
Close off the airflow into the fire as best you can and get outside.
Expect a real mess to clean up after the fire and the dry chemical extinguisher. When the firefighters get there they will do what needs to be done, but they will add to the mess. Be sure to thank them.
It is your house and your fire so it is your mess to clean up. Just be thankful that you still have a house to clean.
Smoke alarms save lives
Everyone, whether you heat with wood or not, needs to have several smoke alarms installed and working in your home. If you don’t have them get them and call you local fire department for free advice on where to install them. They would rather help you before a fire than during one.
The following products are accepted by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for use in fireplaces and wood stoves.