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Preventing chimney fires

One of the most common causes of chimney fires is creosote buildup inside the chimney catching fire and burning. One of the reasons for annual chimney cleanings is to remove accumulated creosote

I never realized how important a yearly chimney cleaning was until I witnessed a chimney fire. As a young reporter, I remember covering several fires, all of which were scary. But none of them compared to the chimney fire I watched eight years ago.

The memory of that uncontrollable blazing inferno, which practically destroyed a two-storey wood-frame house, is permanently branded in my psyche. It took place hardly five acres from my home.

I was driving up the dirt road leading to my home after being away for three days on a story. I could smell the smoke a quarter mile away, and hear fire engines’ screeching sirens behind me as they raced to the fire. As I got closer to my house, police had blocked the road to traffic, only allowing residents to pass.

Four fire trucks were already on the scene, trying to get the fire under control.

The police allowed me to pass so I could drive to my house. They didn’t allow anyone to drive or walk up the road to the burning house. I asked one of the volunteer firefighters how the fire started. He said he wasn’t sure, but judging by the intensity and ferocity of the blaze, he thought it started in the chimney.

I soon discovered he was right. As soon as I threw my knapsack and luggage in my house, I ran into the woods and worked my way through brush, dense woods and hedgerows to the fire so I could see what was happening close up. The heat was so intense, I could feel it 25 yards away.

A combination of black and white smoke billowed from the chimney. While flames consumed the house, there were loud crackling, popping noises, the choking smell of fire and smoke consumed the air. The flames annihilated most of the house in less than two hours.

As hard as the firefighters worked, it was impossible to stop the fire. All they could do was try to control it, make sure it didn’t spread, and minimize the damage.

The fire burned for about six hours. When it was over, most of the house was destroyed. Ironically, more than half of the brick chimney was intact. The fire, which started in the chimney, could have been prevented if the owners were more careful and cleaned their chimney regularly, and were more selective about what they burned.

One of the most common causes of chimney fires is creosote buildup inside the chimney catching fire and burning inside the chimney. Creosote is a by-product of burning, which coats the inside of the chimney. It comes from particles that didn’t burn fully because the temperatures in the chimney dropped.

One of the reasons for annual chimney cleanings is to remove accumulated creosote

How to prevent chimney fires

Be careful what you burn. Only burn seasoned wood, or wood that is completely dry. Depending upon the type of wood, it takes three to six months for wood to dry completely.

Only start fires with dry kindling. Never burn laminated paper, cardboard boxes or wrapping paper.

To ensure safe burning, get annual chimney inspections and cleanings to remove creosote from chimney walls. The ideal time to do it is right now when the weather is still warm. Don’t wait until the weather starts to get cold

BOB WEINSTEIN | LIVING BETTER