NEWPORT, VT - There’s nothing like a warm fire on a cold winter night, right? Before you light that wood burning stove or fireplace, you had better make sure your chimney is clean.
Chimney fires, at least in Newport City, are not as much of a problem as they use to be. However, that may change as oil prices rise and more people start to burn wood.
Fire officials recommend homeowners have their chimneys cleaned and inspected at least once a year. Failure to do so will result in creosote buildup and cause the chimney to catch fire, which may led to the entire home burning to the ground and even death.
Low burning fires in wood stoves and fire places are some of the primary causes of creosote. Creosote can build up anywhere in the chimney.
“It doesn’t burn hot enough to burn the creosote off,” Newport City Fire Chief Jamie LeClair said. “Your creosote ends up building up. A hot fire will not create a lot of creosote.”
LeClair also recommends homeowners cut away branches and tree limbs located above the chimney and place a spark arrestor over the chimney so no debris will fall in. Homeowners may purchase spark arrestors at most hardware stores.
Fire is not the only concern, said LeClair. “You can get carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said. “The biggest thing about carbon monoxide poisoning is that it’s the silent killer. It’s odorless, you can’t taste it, you can’t see it, you can’t smell it and it can lead to death.”
Compared to the alternative, annual chimney cleanings and inspections are inexpensive, LeClair said.
Homeowners should check their smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors once a month. The batteries need to be changed every six months and the detectors should be cleaned frequently. LeClair recommends a carbon monoxide detector in the furnace room, the living room, hallway and other living area. Each room should also have a smoke detector. In many cases, homeowners can buy combination units.
“We like to see things hardwired with battery backup,” LeClair said. “Some people forget their batteries. If the power goes out, it still will work. But you still need to check the batteries.”
If a carbon monoxide detector goes off, all occupants of the home should vacate immediately and call 911. All local fire departments have meters that test for a variety of gases.
Homeowners, when cleaning their stoves and fireplaces, should place the ashes in a metal container with a secured lid. The container should be placed away from any buildings.
“Your ashes can stay hot and smolder up to three days,” LeClair said. “If you have a good tin with a secure lid, no air will get inside and the ashes will go out.”
“To me, it’s preventive maintenance,” LeClair said. “It’s easy stuff to remember that we all forget.”
Many departments have education material for the public and there are many good free sources on the Internet.
According to the United States Fire Administration, other tips include:
Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36”) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.
Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be laboratory tested.
Have chimneys inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if they have not been used for some time.
Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.
The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.
Don’t use excessive amounts of papers to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite theses materials.
Before you go to sleep, make sure the fireplace fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide in the house.
If synthetic materials are sued, followed directions on the package. Never break synthetic logs apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.