Oct. 9 through 15 is National Fire Safety Week in the United States. Over the years, fire safety week has usually been associated with outdoor fires, forest fires and so on. This year, I would like to provide you with some hard facts about fires in the home — where they are most likely to start, and why.
Most homes built prior to 2000 have solid fuel burning fireplaces as an alternate heating source for the living room or family room. Fireplaces and stoves have been used in homes for hundreds of years to provide warmth and a place to cook. But when you stop to think about it, doesn’t it seem a bit counterproductive to home fire safety to actually build a fire inside? Aren’t you increasing the odds of your home burning down simply by building a fire inside of it?
Seems logical — after all most homes are built of and contain materials like wood, cloth, paper, and other highly flammable textiles. So why would you build a fire inside of this fuel box?
Like everything else in life that can harm us or destroy our property if handled improperly, fire must be respected and handled with care to prevent it from getting out of hand and causing destruction. Wood-burning fireplaces are no exception.
When firewood is placed in a fireplace, it causes smoke, and smoke that doesn’t make it out of the top of the chimney, or creosote, deposits on the chimney walls and builds up over time.
Creosote is tarry and very flammable. If allowed to build up on chimney walls, it creates a fuel source that, once ignited, can cause catastrophic damage to chimney flues and catch a home on fire. When a flue fire occurs, it draws large amounts of air into the fireplace opening to fuel the fire. The sound of this sudden rush of air has been described as the roar from a jet engine, and the flue temperature can reach 2,000 degrees or higher.
When this happens, the flue usually suffers some sort of structural damage, depending on the duration of the fire and the material your flue is made of. Flue damage can lead to even greater problems with future fireplace fires.
Under less-than-extreme conditions, a flue fire can occur in your fireplace flue without your knowledge, but can still cause serious structural damage to the chimney structure. For this reason alone, it is recommended you have your chimney inspected by a certified fireplace and chimney inspector each year prior to using your fireplace.
Between 2005 and 2007, of the estimated 385,100 annual residential structural fires in the US, an average of 26,000 were related to the fireplace, chimney or chimney connector. Almost all of these could have been prevented with an annual inspection of the fireplace and chimney.
Annual chimney inspections and chimney maintenance is best left to a qualified chimney professional like a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. The Chimney Safety Institute of America administers the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep program by which chimney sweeps prove their technical aptitude by passing a series of two exams on industry codes and standards and by signing the CSIA Code of Ethics and maintaining a required level of continuing education. Learn more about chimney safety and locate a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep in your area by visiting www.CSIA.org .
This winter, make it a point to be careful bringing fire into your home. If properly handled and cared for, it can make your home a comfortable place on cold evenings. If improperly handled, it can destroy your home, your family and your dreams.