With cool weather, homeowners with fireplaces are enjoying the comfort of a crackling fire. But that comfort can turn to terror if fireplace and chimney maintenance is ignored.
Extensive damage to the chimney of a home on Ulen Boulevard last week showed the importance of regular maintenance of fireplaces, Lebanon Fire Chief Jason Lee said.
Firefighters “caught it fast enough it didn’t get into the attic,” Lee said. “When we got there, flames were coming out the chimney.”
Most chimney fires are caused by the buildup of creosote, a brown or black tarry substance created when wood burns.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America, headquartered in Plainfield, said in a report, “Chimneys are far from the passive black holes most people assume them to be. They perform several vital functions, and their simple appearance belies a complex of interrelated construction and performance requirements.”
Between 2005 and 2011, between 22,500 and 27,200 chimney fires occurred each year in the U.S., the CSIA said, basing those figures on information from the NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration. From 2007 to 2011, 60 people died in the 126,700 fires that began in chimneys, chimney connectors or fireplaces, the CSIA said.
Failing to clean chimneys, particularly of creosote, was the primary source of more than a quarter of all chimney fires between 2006 and 2010, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Two of every three fires caused by heating equipment – a category that includes fireplaces and chimneys – were caused by improper use of those devices.
“Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires, and third leading cause of home fire deaths,” the NFPA said.
Chimneys should be inspected at least once a year, the NFPA said.
“This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem,” the CSIA said in a tips for homeowner section of its website. “It takes into account the fact that even if you don’t use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.”
It’s time to clean a fireplace when soot becomes one-eighth of an inch thick, the CSIA said, because that’s enough of a concentration to cause a chimney fire.
For more information on chimney fires, including how to hire a chimney sweep, see www.csia.org; for general fire safety tips, see www.purdue.edu/fire/safety_tips.htm or the Indiana Department of Homeland Security at www.in.gov/dhs/3175.htm.