According to the U. S. Fire Administration (USFA) 36% of residential home fires are due to creosote buildup (a tar-like substance that sticks to the walls of a chimney when wood is burned) in chimneys and stovepipes. That adds up to 26,000 fires, 137,000 million dollars in property damage and 60 human deaths annually.
The USFA and Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission encourages you to practice the following fire safety steps to keep those home fires burning safely:
- Have your chimney or wood burning stove inspected and cleaned annually by a by a certified chimney specialist.
- Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
- Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces. Leave glass doors open while burning a fire.
- Never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
Safely Burn Fuels
- Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
- Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
- Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
- Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
- When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
Protect the Outside of Your Home
- Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
- Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
- Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
- Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.
Protect the Inside of Your Home
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
Certain homeowners are especially vulnerable to the potential for chimney fires because thousands of chimneys have been left damaged by earthquakes. And in addition to that damage, another hidden problem was caused by unscrupulous contractors that swooped in to take advantage of the free flow of money being provided to unsuspecting homeowners and then failed to make proper repairs to many damaged chimneys. Consequently those homeowners just do not realize the potential fire hazard created every time they light their fireplace.
Ultimately, to keep your home safe from chimney fires, a certified chimney specialist with the aid of a video camera should determine the structural integrity and fire safety of your chimney structure. This includes metal prefabricated chimneys as well as masonry types.