You may think that a chimney fire is something that only happens to other people, but the reality is that it can happen to anyone. If you’re not familiar with the signs of a chimney fire, it’s essential to learn them so that you can take action if one starts in your home.
Local fire departments responded to an estimated 1.4 million fires in the United States in 2020. An additional 3,500 civilian fire fatalities and 15,200 reported civilian fire injuries were attributed to these blazes. Lastly, a total of $21.9 billion was lost in property damage.
Knowing what to look for could save you and your family from a potentially dangerous situation. So, keep reading for more information on the warning signs of a chimney fire.
What is a Chimney Fire?
A chimney fire is a dangerous event that can occur when a build-up of soot and creosote in your chimney ignites. This happens when the byproducts of combustion are not adequately vented out of your home and instead accumulate on the inner walls of your chimney.
While small fires may burn themselves out quickly, larger ones can cause extensive damage to your chimney and even spread to the rest of your home. In some cases, a chimney fire can even cause the collapse of your chimney.
There are two types of chimney fires: smoldering and flaming.
1. Smoldering or Slow Burning Chimney Fire
A smoldering fire burns slowly and produces a lot of smoke. These fires are often hard to detect because they do not produce flames visible from the outside of your home.
2. Flaming or Fast Burning Chimney Fire
The second type of chimney fire is a flaming or fast-burning fire. These fires burn quickly and produce flames visible from the outside of your home.
What Causes a Chimney Fire?
Multiple factors can contribute to a chimney fire. Some of the most common include:
Creosote build-up is the most common cause of chimney fires. Creosote is a byproduct of combustion that sticks to the walls of your chimney. If not removed, it can accumulate and become a fire hazard.
Creosote exists in three stages or degrees:
- Stage one: Stage one is flammable but not yet hazardous.
- Stage two: This stage is slightly more dangerous than stage one.
- Stage three: This is the most hazardous stage of creosote build-up and should be removed immediately.
A blocked chimney flue can also cause a chimney fire. Your flue is the part of your chimney that vents smoke and gasses out of your home. A blockage can be caused by anything from a bird’s nest to excessive soot build-up.
Poor ventilation is another common cause of chimney fires. If your chimney is not adequately ventilated, it can cause combustion byproducts to build up and eventually ignite.
Spontaneous combustion is a rare but potential cause of chimney fires. This occurs when flammable materials spontaneously catch fire without an external ignition source.
Improper Use of Fireplace
The improper use of your fireplace is another potential cause of chimney fires. For example, burning trash in your fireplace can create hazardous conditions that lead to a fire.
Animal nests are a common cause of chimney fires. Birds, squirrels, and other animals often build nests in chimneys because they are sheltered from the elements. If not removed, these nests can block your flue and cause a fire.
Faulty and Leaky Chimney
If your chimney is in poor condition, it can also lead to a fire. Faulty components and leaks can allow water and other materials to enter your chimney. This can create hazardous conditions that lead to a fire.
Early Signs of a Fast Burning Chimney Fire
As outlined earlier, there are two types of chimney fires: smoldering and flaming.
The following are early signs of a fast-burning chimney fire:
1. Flickering flames in your fireplace
Flickering flames in your fireplace are a sign that something is wrong. If you see this, it’s essential to act quickly to avoid a fire.
2. A loud crackling or popping sound
A loud crackling or popping sound is another early sign of a chimney fire. This happens as the flames begin to ignite the creosote on the walls of your chimney.
3. A large amount of dense smoke
If you see a large amount of dense smoke coming from your chimney, it’s a sign that a fire is burning. This smoke is often difficult to see during the daytime but can be seen at night.
4. A hot smell coming from your fireplace
When a fast-burning fire ignites, you may also notice a hot smell coming from your fireplace. This is caused by the burning of the creosote on the walls of your chimney.
5. An increase in the temperature of your room
Fireplaces are designed to radiate heat into your home. However, if you notice an increase in the temperature of your room, it’s a sign that a fire is burning.
In the event of a fast-burning chimney fire, you need to call 911 immediately!
Early Signs of a Slow Burning Chimney Fire
The following are early signs of a slow-burning chimney fire:
1. Puffy creosote
Puffy creosote is a sign of a slow-burning chimney fire. Because creosote is a byproduct of combustion, it becomes puffy when heated by a fire.
2. A thin layer of soot on the walls of your chimney
If you see a thin layer of soot on the walls of your chimney, it’s a sign that a slow-burning fire is taking place.
3. Cracked flue tiles
Cracked flue tiles are another sign of a slow-burning chimney fire. When flue tiles snap, they allow heat to escape, which can cause the tiles to become brittle and eventually break.
4. Discolored and distorted chimney cap
The heat can cause the chimney cap to become discolored and distorted when you have a slow-burning chimney fire. This happens because the metal of the chimney cap expands when heated by the fire.
5. Roof damage
In this case, the damage is usually caused by the heat of the fire rather than the flames. If you see any damage to your roof, it’s a sign that a slow-burning chimney fire is taking place.
6. Ground roofing material damage
If you see damage to the ground roofing material around your chimney, it’s a sign of a slow-burning chimney fire. The heat from the fire can cause the shingles, TV antennas, and other objects around the chimney to become warped or discolored.
7. Smoke in the house
While it’s normal for some smoke to enter the house when you’re using your fireplace, if you see smoke coming from your electrical outlets, windows, or doors, it’s a sign that a slow-burning chimney fire is taking place.
Call a professional to inspect your chimney if you see any signs. A slow-burning chimney fire can cause severe damage to your home, so it’s essential to have it checked as soon as possible.
What Are the Dangers of a Chimney Fire?
Chimney fires come with several dangers that you should be aware of. Some of them include:
Toxic Gasses and Smoke
When a chimney fire occurs, it releases toxic gasses and smoke. These gasses can include carbon monoxide and other harmful chemicals that can be dangerous to your health.
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer because it’s an invisible gas that can cause serious health problems and even death without any warning signs. That’s why it’s essential to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and how to protect yourself from exposure to this potentially deadly gas.
Another danger of a chimney fire is the potential for structural damage to your home. The intense heat from the fire can cause the bricks and mortar of your chimney to crack and crumble, which can lead to severe damage to your home.
Spread of fire
As you may know, fire can spread quickly. If a chimney fire is not put out quickly, it can spread to the rest of your home and cause even more damage.
Risk of injury
Of course, another danger of a chimney fire is the risk of injury. The intense heat and flames can cause severe burns, and the smoke can be harmful to your lungs.
Thus, it’s essential to be aware of the dangers of a chimney fire and take steps to prevent one from occurring in your home.
These are some of the most common dangers of a chimney fire that you should be aware of. If you think your chimney may be on fire, it’s crucial to call 911 and the fire department immediately and evacuate your home.
What to Do if You Have a Chimney Fire
If you have a chimney fire, it’s essential to take action immediately to extinguish the flames and prevent further damage. Here’s what you need to do:
Contact the fire department
Contacting the fire department and 911 is always the first step when you have a fire. They will be able to assess the situation and put out the fire quickly and efficiently.
If you have a stove, don’t pour water on the fire
If you have a stove, it’s important not to pour water on the fire as this can cause the stove to explode. Instead, try to smother the flames with a blanket or use a fire extinguisher.
Get out of the house
Once you’ve contacted the fire department, it’s essential to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Make sure everyone in the house is aware of the situation and knows to evacuate.
Stove owners should shut all flue dampers and air vents
If you have a stove, close all the flue dampers, and air vents must be closed to prevent the fire from spreading. This is because the open flue allows oxygen to reach the fire, which will make it worse.
Move flammable material away from the fire
This is only advisable if the fire is small and confident you can extinguish it yourself. If the fire is large, it’s best to leave this to the professionals.
Extinguish the fire
Once you’ve taken all of the necessary precautions, you can extinguish the fire. The best way to do this is by using a fire extinguisher. If the fire is small, you can also try to smother it with a blanket.
Contact a professional to inspect your chimney
Once the fire is extinguished, it’s essential to contact a professional to inspect your chimney. They will be able to identify any damage and make any necessary repairs.
Taking action quickly is essential if you have a chimney fire. You can extinguish the flames and prevent further damage by following these steps.
Safety Tips to Prevent Chimney Fires
There are a few things you can do to prevent chimney fires:
1. Book Annual Chimney Inspection and Chimney Sweeps Services
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), it’s essential to have your fireplace, vents, and chimney inspected and cleaned once a year by professional chimney sweep services.
Booking such services for your chimney from a certified professional is one of the best ways to prevent chimney fires. This is because they will be able to identify any potential problems and fix them before they become a fire hazard.
2. Use dry, Seasoned Burning Wood
Another way to prevent chimney fires is by using dry, seasoned wood. This type of wood burns more slowly and produces less soot and creosote, which can build up and cause a fire.
On the other hand, wet and unseasoned wood contains about 30% water content and produces more smoke, leading to creosote buildup. And as discussed earlier, creosote buildup is one of the leading causes of chimney fires.
3. Don’t overload your fireplace
It’s also important not to overload your fireplace. This means only adding a few logs at a time and making sure they’re not too big. Overloading your fireplace can cause the fire to spread to the chimney, which could lead to a fire.
4. Don’t burn trash or cardboard in your fireplace
Another way to prevent chimney fires is by not burning:
- cardboard boxes
- wrapping paper
- Christmas trees
These materials can easily catch fire and cause a chimney fire.
5. Use creosote logs
Creosote logs are also known to help prevent chimney fires. These logs are specifically designed to help reduce the amount of creosote buildup in your chimney, which helps reduce the risk of a chimney fire.
6. Install a Chimney Cap
Installing a chimney cap is also an effective way to prevent chimney fires. Chimney caps help keep debris and animals out of your chimney, which can clog it and cause a fire.
7. Use proper ventilation
It’s also essential to use adequate ventilation when burning a fire in your fireplace. This means opening the flue to allow the smoke to escape and not blocking it with furniture or other objects.
Blocking the flue can cause the smoke to build up and eventually catch fire, leading to a chimney fire.
8. Don’t leave your fire unattended
You should also never leave your fire unattended. This means not going to bed or leaving the house while there’s still a fire in your fireplace.
Leaving a fire unattended is one of the leading causes of chimney fires. So it’s essential to make sure you’re always supervising your fire and taking the necessary precautions to prevent a fire from happening.
9. Know your fireplace anatomy and use it properly
Knowing your fireplace anatomy is also crucial to preventing chimney fires. This means understanding how your fireplace works and using it properly.
For example, you should never use flammable liquids to start a fire in your fireplace. This could easily lead to a chimney fire. Additionally, it would be best to keep your manufacturer’s instructions handy so that you can refer to them if needed.
10. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Finally, installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home is also important. These detectors can help alert you to a fire in your chimney and allow you to extinguish it before it causes any damage.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are an essential part of any home safety plan.
A chimney fire can be a serious event. Therefore, it’s essential to identify the early signs of a chimney fire so that you can take action and prevent a larger, more dangerous fire from happening.
While it’s essential to be aware of the warning signs of a chimney fire, it’s also crucial to have your chimney inspected and cleaned regularly. Schedule an appointment with professional chimney sweeps services at least once a year.
This will ensure your fireplace, chimney, and vents are in good working order and not prone to chimney fires.