This morning firefighters put out a chimney fire at a home on Gopher Lane. (Thankfully, the main part of the house was saved.) A chimney fire is the suspected cause of the fire that destroyed a home a couple of days ago on Round Mountain. Do you know what to do in the event of a chimney fire or, better yet, how to prevent one?
Dirty chimneys cause chimney fires. Chimneys that get used get dirty, because burning wood creates gaseous byproducts that condense inside the stovepipe or chimney liner. The main culprit is creosote—a gummy, extremely combustible substance. If no precautions are taken, creosote coats everything through which it passes. It can plug a stovepipe/chimney liner. It can break into sooty pieces that settle in low spots in stovepipes/chimney liners. Creosote buildup causes most chimney fires. Therefore, to prevent chimney fires, stove pipes/chimney liners must be cleaned and inspected periodically.
The following issues cause creosote to build quickly:
- Restricted air supply
- Wet or unseasoned wood
- Too cool chimney temperatures
Therefore, taking the following steps will help prevent a chimney fire:
- Either DIY or hire someone to sweep out your stovepipe/chimney liner at least once a year. A sign a sweep needs to be done as soon as possible is that smoke tends to draft out through woodstove air vents or the door gasket rather than easily up and out.
- Burn dry and cured wood. Burning wet and/or green wood causes creosote to build quickly.
- Avoid burning softwoods that contain a lot of pitch or sap. Given that most of us don’t have hardwoods to burn, do the best you can. Douglas fir, larch/tamarack, and lodgepole pine are better choices than Ponderosa pine.
- Burning your woodstove “hot” regularly prevents creosote buildup. So, don’t leave the vents barely cracked open for days on end hoping to use less firewood. Keeping fires banked for too long causes creosote to buildup. Not certain what is hot enough yet not too hot? Buy and install a magnetic stovepipe thermometer. Many of them show an ideal “burn zone” range of temperatures.
- Use a creosote remover powder or “sweeping log.” Each of the hardware and home improvement centers in Flathead Valley sell one or more brands of creosote remover.
Many people who experienced a chimney fire reported hearing LOUD roaring/rumbling noises in their stovepipe or chimney before seeing flames or dense smoke shooting out the top of their chimney. However, some chimney fires do not get enough oxygen or have enough fuel to cause a glaringly obvious and dramatic chimney fire. Nevertheless, a slow burning chimney fire can cause nearby combustible parts of a building to burn, too.
If you flat out know, or even suspect you have a chimney fire, get yourself and others out of harm’s way and call 9-1-1 immediately. Then, if there’s enough time to react without causing probable harm to yourself:
- Shut all air vents/flue dampers to reduce oxygen supply to the fire.
- If you have it, use a chimney fire extinguisher or suppressant product. There are a couple of different brands of these chemical sticks and pouches. Currently, the sticks were retailing for $20 plus shipping directly from the manufacturer and for $43 without additional shipping charges on Amazon. It’s not enough to simply buy one or two of them and be done. Read the product instructions, so you will be prepared to use it when under stress. Then store it where you can get to it easily and quickly in the event of a chimney fire.
You can use a water hose to wet down the roof near the chimney to try to prevent fire from spreading, but do NOT spray down the chimney itself.
Our firefighters hope you can keep warm while staying safe this winter.