Chimney fires can damage more than just the chimney. If a chimney fire occurs, it can catch the roof, any walls near the chimney, or any other part of your home.
One cause of chimney fires can be debris in the chimney. Nesting birds is an example, the hot products of combustion can cause the nesting material to catch on fire, resulting in a fire in the flue system. This can be prevented with a cap at the top of your chimney. A cap will prevent birds, squirrels or other critters from entering the chimney in the first place. Another cause of chimney fires can be cracked chimney flue tiles. Regular chimney sweeping, with routine video inspection, can reveal any cracks or missing mortar joints even after the creosote is removed. Firewood that is not fully seasoned is the main cause of creosote buildup. It is best to burn dry wood that has been seasoned at least six months.
The most important thing you can do to prevent chimney fires is to have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Chimney damage or plain old wear and tear needs to be discovered and repaired to make your chimney safe. Having your chimney cleaned removes creosote buildup and keeps the smoke passageway open so your fire can breath properly. A thorough inspection is just as important as the cleaning. The National Chimney Sweep Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America are two sources for locating certified chimney sweeps.
It is a good idea to keep a chimney fire extinguisher in the home. They are basically flares which take up all of the oxygen in the chimney for a period of time in order to prevent it from burning. Be sure to read the manufactures instructions carefully.
Detecting a chimney fire requires keen senses. A bad chimney fire will have a big cloud of dense smoke billowing out of the chimney, sometimes with flames or sparks. However, this may not be noticeable from inside the home. You may also hear a loud crackling/popping noise or a loud rumbling/roaring noise. The sound can be similar to a freight train or jet engine.
Nearly 50% of home heating fires occur in December, January and February and according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America 26,900 home fires are caused by chimneys every year resulting in homeowner’s insurance claims.
If you realize a chimney fire is occurring get everyone out of the house, including yourself, and call 911.