Chimney Fire Statistics: 5 Key Metrics Homeowners Must Know

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For most homeowners, it’s the stuff of nightmares: smoke pouring from a chimney and flames licking at its edges. Chimney fire statistics, unfortunately, show this nightmare is very real — and potentially deadly.

Backed by data from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), here’s a rotten reality: thousands of chimney fires every year cause millions of dollars in property damage and, tragically, even fatalities. 

Chimney fire dangers are no joke, but with the right tools and education, you can keep your family safe from one of these dreaded fires. Let’s take a closer look at the data behind chimney fires so you know what to look out for and why preventive measures are so important. 

Chimney Fire Statistics Frequency and Impact

A house on fire.

A frighteningly large number of U.S. homes experience chimney fires each year — often with hazardous results. There are an estimated 25,000 chimney fires annually in the US, accounting for nearly 125 million dollars in property loss.

NFPA reports that confined fires (13% of all home structure fires) were responsible for a whopping 87% of residential building heating system-related fire deaths and 90% of heating system-related fire injuries. 

But chimney fires can cause far more destruction than physical property damage and personal injury — they can affect your peace of mind and even the safety of your home. Sadly, homeowners often don’t realize that they had a chimney fire until professionals have already extinguished it, and they face extensive damage and the difficult work of rebuilding.

To be safe from these devastating blazes, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of an actively burning chimney fire and the common causes of a chimney blaze before it starts. 

Here are a few chimney fire statistics that should give you pause:

  • From 2014 to 2018, a fireplace or chimney was behind 3 out of every 10 house fires in the United States.
  •  Nearly half (48%) of all heating-related fires happen during December, January, and February when the temperature drops. 
  • Woodstoves and other primary heating equipment account for 4,000 fires in the United States annually. 
  • Over 65% of America’s wood stoves are old and inefficient — easily leading to a chimney fire if not properly maintained or replaced. 
  • Between 2012 and 2014, there were an average of 22,300 fireplace, chimney, and chimney connector fires. 


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Property Damage and Repair

Chimney fires can cause an unbelievable amount of destruction. Firefighters may have to tear down walls, floors, and ceilings if the fire has spread. Even a structure that is not destroyed by flames can be affected by smoke and water damage from fire suppression efforts.

And unfortunately, just because the chimney is stable and standing post-fire does not mean it’s safe to use it again, as danger could lurk even after the sparks are gone. An inspection of the structure is needed; be prepared for costly repairs following a fireplace blaze. 

Here are the average costs for a chimney repair job due to fire damage:

Type Of RepairAverage Cost
Drywall replacement $450 – $2,500
Foundation repairs$500 – $8,000
Flooring repairs or replacement $500 – $25,000
Insulation Replacement $2,500 – $7,000
Electrical wiring repairs$1000 – $3,500
Roof repair$500 – $1,500
Full or partial roof replacement$2,500 – $5,500 

Personal Loss and Injuries

Nearly every chimney fire statistic that makes it into the headlines is focused on property damage and cost. But we must not forget that lives are at risk, too. In 2018, 82 firefighter fatalities and 14,300 civilian fire injuries were reported in the United States alone. Of these injuries, 81 percent were caused by structure fires — a category that chimney fires would fall under.

In 2021, civilian fire-related deaths were 7.9 per 1,000 reported home fires (USFA). For one- and two-family homes, that rate was 42 percent lower than in 1980 but still represents a grave risk. In 2020 alone, 500 fire injuries and deaths were related to children aged 14 or younger. 

While these reported numbers may seem low to some, they likely don’t tell the whole story. It’s possible some more fire-related injuries and deaths went unreported or were wrongly listed as issues caused by something other than fire. 

The news may not be what you want to hear, but the data is clear. Chimney fires put lives at risk, so preventative measures can help protect your family.

Human Toll of Chimney Fires 

A man on a stretcher being taken to the ambulance.

Here is a sobering example: In April 2023, a family in Rawreth had their house left uninhabitable after experiencing a chimney fire that started in the chimney’s flue, and in 2022, West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service had to attend to 68 chimney fires.

In Northern Ireland, three fatalities were recorded from accidental house fires in 2019-2020. Although this is a decrease of 50% from the previous year, too many people have lost their lives due to chimney fires.

In the U.S. in 2023, one person died from a chimney fire on West Magnetic Street in Michigan. Pets also suffer from these blazes, along with the family that loves them. In Marshall, Texas, a man and his two pets perished when a fire caused by a fireplace blaze took their lives. 

These particularly sad tales speak to the human toll of chimney fires that often get lost in the statistics surrounding property loss and damage. 

The Environmental Impact of Chimney Fires

Chimney fire statistics are concerning information, sure — but let’s also look at the environmental impact of chimney fires. As if the damage to your home and possible injury to those inside weren’t enough, these flames can release harmful fumes and toxins into the environment even after they are extinguished. 

These chemicals can contribute to air pollution, affecting your neighborhood and people worldwide. Further, it’s worth noting that these fires often start due to human-influenced activity like failing to clean chimneys and vents. The items removed during cleaning, such as creosote, can also be hazardous if not disposed of properly. 

We must all take responsibility for our actions, especially regarding chimney and dryer vent cleaning. Chimney fires left unaddressed can continue to release toxins long after the initial blaze, and if there’s damage done to the structure of your home, that releases lead dust into the environment. 

Lead dust can cause serious health problems for both adults and children. The flammable materials used to build most chimneys — including wood and plastic — can also release small amounts of toxic chemicals when burned in a fire. Proper prevention and regularly scheduled maintenance can help to reduce the damage done by chimney fires. 


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What Are the Leading Causes of Chimney Fires?

Chimney fires are preventable in most cases. The leading causes and how to remedy them include:

1. Creosote Buildup

One of the biggest causes of chimney fires is an accumulation of creosote. This black sooty substance naturally builds up in chimneys over time. While there are several types of creosote  including moist and dry,  all have a high heat capacity, which means they can burn when hot enough. 

To avoid this, regular cleanings or sweeps of your chimney are recommended. The CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends that if you use creosote-producing fuels like wood, you should have your chimney swept by a certified technician at least once a year. The CSIA can help you find a reputable company or chimney sweep team. 

2. Bird Nests

A bird's nest on top of a chimney.

We all appreciate nature, but not when it’s inside your chimney. A bird’s nest in your flue can restrict air flow, leading to smoke problems and, eventually, a chimney fire. If the nest falls, it can also be extremely flammable, creating even more fire hazards. 

To help prevent animals from becoming a chimney fire statistic, cap your chimney so birds and other critters don’t get in. Watch for signs of animal activity, like birds chirping or nesting material piling up outside your chimney.

3. Faulty Chimney Structure and Improper Installation

Have you taken a close look at your chimney lately? You might be surprised that your chimney needs repair or was built incorrectly. Problems like too-shallow footing, soil that’s too loose under the foundation, liners improperly installed, and a smoke chamber that’s unparged (unfinished) can all lead to chimney fires. 

Replacing or repairing your chimney should be a top priority if it’s in this condition. Seek the help of a certified chimney mason to assess the condition of your chimney and make any necessary repairs. They can give you a firm quote on what their services will cost for each type of project. 

4. Inadequate Cleaning and Maintenance 

When you don’t properly clean and maintain your chimney, the debris that accumulates can easily catch fire, leading to what’s known as a puff backfire. This includes improper cleaning, such as sweeping too deeply and possibly creating a blockage in your flue, neglecting to use the right types of fuel, and failing to do regular inspections. 

To prevent this, always ensure your chimney is properly swept of all debris, use only the right fuel types, and have a professional inspect your chimney before the start of each burning season.

Prevention and Safety Measures of Chimney Fires

Now that you know the risks and statistics associated with chimney fires, how can you protect your home? To avoid becoming a scary stat in the books, take at least Quarterly Home Fire Safety Checks, with one before each burn season. 

Prevention requires diligence and regular maintenance. You should keep your chimney from being the spark that starts a blaze. Here’s what you can do:

Laws and Regulations

Be sure to follow your local fire safety regulations. You can check your state’s laws and restrictions in the United States. In some places, home inspections are legally mandated at certain times to enforce these safety laws. Other statutes require chimney inspections after fifteen years or after the property has changed hands. 

The NFPA 211 Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances also outlines regulations that must be met. This includes:

  • 14.2 Annual Inspection: Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents should be inspected at least once a year in accordance with the requirements of section 15.2;
  • 14.2.1 Cleaning and Maintenance: Cleaning maintenance and repairs should be done if necessary;
  • 15.2 Types of Inspection: The scope of the inspection, the areas of the chimney examined, and the degree of invasiveness should be appropriate given the conditions
  • Verification: The inspection should include verification that the flue is free of combustible deposits, blockages, or obstruction; 
  • Internal Surfaces: The inspection should include the examination of internal surfaces of fireplaces and smoke chambers for damage, deterioration, combustible deposits, and evidence of operating malfunction.

The ICC Electrical Residential and Building Code books also regulate chimneys, fireplaces, and vents. Be sure to stay up-to-date on local laws when they change and follow their standards. Here are just a few of the guidelines:

  • Chapter 10: Chimneys and Fireplaces, Factory-Built;
  • Chapter 8: Chimneys – governs the installation, maintenance, repair, and approval of chimneys, liners, and connectors;
  • Chapter 2: Definitions;
  • Chapter 603.2: Chimney Construction – Masonry chimneys should be constructed in accordance with the International Building Code, factory-built according to the International Mechanical Code, and metal in accordance with NFPA 21.


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How to Prevent Chimney Fires

Here are some proactive steps to avoid becoming a chimney fire statistic:

1. Schedule an Annual Chimney Inspection

A technician checking the chimney.

What’s a surefire way to protect your home and family from the dangers of chimney fires? Follow the CSIA recommendation and inspect your chimney annually. During an inspection, a professional can assess any damage or creosote buildup and take necessary steps to protect your chimney.

Don’t skimp on inspection costs; it will be more costly in the long run. This is an essential preventative measure to maintain your chimney’s health and safety.

Ensure you always use a certified professional to issue a CFEI Certificate of Compliance after the inspection. 

2. Minimize Creosote Buildup

It’s not enough to rely on an annual inspection for protection from creosote buildup. Efficient burning practices and consistent cleaning habits will ensure your chimney flue stays clean throughout the year. 

Burn only hardwood seasoned for at least six months, and keep the damper open while the fire is burning. If your chimney flue liner is uninsulated, consider insulating it with vermiculite. You’ll reduce the likelihood of creosote buildup by preventing flue temperatures from getting too cool.

3. Clean Your Chimney Walls When Buildup is Detected 

It’s easy to forget to do regular maintenance on your chimney, but it’s essential for the safety of your home. If you scratch a finger against a wall and uncover one-eighth of an inch of buildup, it’s time to clean the chimney. Cleaning can be done by a professional, or you may use a wide chimney brush. 

4. Install A Chimney Cap

To protect against excess debris, animal nests, or smoke “back puffing,” a chimney cap should be installed on the crown of the flue. Caps help ensure nothing falls through and prevent rainy water from entering and damaging the structure. Make sure you choose one made of galvanized metal and not a decorative option, as these are known to void the warranty. 

5. Safe Fire Starters

Always use CSIA-certified logs and torn or crumpled old newspaper as tinder when buying fire starters. Never burn gasoline or kerosene to start a fire — these liquids are incredibly combustible, and using them can quickly create a conflagration.

To ensure your fires are burning cleanly, use the top-down burning method: begin with large logs at the base of the firebox, add 4-5 horizontal layers of kindling, then top with tinder. 

6. Clean Burning Techniques

Slow-burning home heating fires create more smoke, eventually leading to a chimney fire if left smoldering overnight. To avoid this, heat your home with hot, fast-combustion fires.

Before retiring for the night, always extinguish the fire completely. Spread out the wood and embers with a poker and cover them with ashes before dousing them with baking soda.

Leave the cooling fire to sit for at least three hours, then shovel all ashes into a metal container filled with water outside your home. 

Final Words 

Chimney fire statistics make it clear that these fires are serious business and can be life-threatening if not addressed properly. Take the steps detailed here to protect your home from becoming another statistic and keep yourself safe from the dangers of a chimney fire.

Prevention makes all the difference — so always seek the help of a certified professional when needed and listen to their advice. After all, it’s far better to be safe than sorry!

Schedule an inspection today with a certified provider to ensure your chimney is in safe working condition. We can help you connect with quality contractors in your area. Your safety is our priority, so don’t hesitate to reach out and protect yourself!

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Thomas Green

Thomas has worked in the Chimney & Fireplace field for over 12 years. He is an expert in his trade and loves to help People with their needs. Thomas Write helpful articles so that homeowners can make the most informed decisions about their fireplace and chimney.