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Facts You Didn’t Know About Chimney Fires

Fire and smoke coming out of a home's chimney

You may not know it, but as you bask in the warmth of your fireplace or wood stove this fall, you could be risking a possible chimney fire. Since National Chimney Safety Week is the last week of September, there’s no better time to learn the facts about chimney fires.

Characteristics of a Chimney Fire

When you light a fire in the hearth, you expect the flames to remain contained while flue gases rise up and out of the chimney. However, it’s possible for the fire to ignite the chimney walls.

Signs of a chimney fire include:

  • Loud popping or cracking noises
  • Rumbling that sounds like a freight train or low-flying airplane
  • Dense smoke or flames shooting out of the chimney
  • Intense heat coming from the fireplace

Why Most Chimney Fires Go Undetected

Some chimney fires burn with enough noise and drama to startle homeowners and alert neighbors or passersby. However, most chimney fires have limited air and fuel, causing them to burn slowly. This means they often remain undetected until the next chimney inspection—or until they burn through the chimney and damage your home.

The Effects of Chimney Fires

If you can’t always detect them and they pose no immediate threat, why are chimney fires such a big deal? The fact is that even slow-burning chimney fires reach high temperatures that can damage the chimney structure.

Masonry chimneys can melt, crack, and collapse, eventually giving flames access to nearby parts of the house, including the combustible wood frame. Wood stove flues can warp, buckle, and separate during a chimney fire. Even prefabricated metal chimneys designed to withstand flue temperatures of 2,100 degrees F can be damaged.

In all situations, your home is at risk if you continue to use your fireplace or wood stove after a chimney fire.

Causes of Chimney Fires

The exhaust fumes from burning wood cause condensation in the chimney. This allows residue known as creosote to stick to the inner walls. Depending on the wood, burn temperature, and other conditions, creosote can be crusty, tar-like, or smooth and hard. All forms are highly combustible. If allowed to accumulate, the flames in the hearth could ignite the creosote, resulting in a chimney fire.

How to Prevent Chimney Fires

Since creosote buildup is the primary cause of chimney fires, your goal is to keep this residue to a minimum. Here’s how:

  • Open the damper wide enough to allow ample airflow while a fire is burning.
  • Only use seasoned wood in your fireplace. This is dried and free of moisture that could lead to increased condensation in the chimney.
  • Avoid overloading your wood stove’s firebox.
  • Have your chimney cleaned during fall every year to remove the creosote buildup from the previous year.

If your home experiences a chimney fire, call DKI Services for help. We restore homes and businesses with fire damage to their pre-fire condition. To learn more, or to request our services, please contact us today.