We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Thursday, December 1. 2022
A winter warning: 25,000 chimney fires/year (re-posted)
And those are just the ones that were reported.
I am reposting this because I had a chimney fire yesterday morning, shortly after our men's Bible study group left my study. This has been my second chimney fire here. Fortunately, I am not too far from the firehouse. I had this flue cleaned last winter, and my sweep was scheduled to come again next week. (I use my fireplace daily.) I climbed a ladder and sprayed the top of the chimney with a lawn hose. Seemed to work.
If you use a fireplace regularly, you need a chimney sweep. In the past 20 years, we have had two chimney fires here, and one at the Farm. It's not a joke.
Spring and summer are the cheapest times to get it done.
Addendum: What burned down Parliament?
Posted by Bird Dog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 15:32 | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)
Trackback specific URI for this entry
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The best way, as you say, is to sweep the chimney once a year - preferably right before burning season starts.
I always have a large spray bottle filled with water handy during burning season. If a chimney fire gets cranking, just spray a healthy stream into the fire place to put out the fire and get steam going up the chimney. If you can, spray water up the chimney itself. And while you are doing that, get the FD rolling towards you so they can drop the chains and brush. :>)
Had to fight a chimney fire just once, as a teenager (father died the year before; mother was at work, home with only older sister and two younger brothers), in a big old (75 years or so) four-chimney two-story slate-roofed brick farmhouse.
One of the most frightening experiences of my life - ever! Thirty-five feet up in the air (tall old chimneys - Federal-style, with tall clay chimney-pots on top), sliding out on a heavy plank that my sister held in place from the rooftop, had to shove the nozzle on the garden hose into the top opening - while it roared and shot sparks and flames and black smoke! - then one of my brothers turned on the water...
Fire department showed up about 20-25 minutes later - they had to come from almost 10 miles away, and they were a volunteer department, had to get together at the firehouse first. If we'd had to wait for them, it's likely the house would have been well alight, by then.
Clean 'em every year folks...
I think we had our sweep come more than once in the year I was in the brick house with the wood stove in Chile. That stove was our only source of heat, so we used it continually from March until November, which meant a lot of creosote.
What impressed me the most about our sweep was that he could light a fire of three logs just by bending back one little bit of bark. I needed a week's worth of newspapers and subsequently larger pieces to get the fire going. He was magic.
Living in the deep south, I've had the luxury of living by the adage, "fires belong outside".
Never had a chimney fire. Been making fires all my life. Never even seen a sweep. Don't know why, maybe luck, or God's protecting the ignorant. I only burn oak wood. Who knows.
Thanks for the advice.
I've never experienced a chimney fire, but I am concerned about the possibility.
My forum reading leads me to think the safest approach is a steady stream of water from a pump-sprayer into the firebox, with the goal of getting as much steam displacing the oxygen going up the chimney as possible.
You don't just dump a quart of water straight on the fire, because you are as likely go get the steam in your face as up the chimney, and the temperature shock can do lots of damage to the firebox.
I consider this safest because it involves no winter ladder-climbing.
After that, having on hand a ziplock-style bag (of the cheapest possible quality, you want it to disintegrate quickly with heat) filled with a pound of clump-free Baking Soda or commercial bicarbonate dry-chemical. The idea is to drop this "bomb" into the chimney from above, and the heat and draft open the bag and spread the powder.
I've seen reports of success just dumping a pound of bicarb on the flames in the firebox. But I fear that might just put out the fire there, and do nothing for the fire up the chimney.
And even if you get it out, you still want the fire department to come and verify that the heat has not managed to crack the masonry and spread the fire to inaccessible parts of the structure.
I am not sure I understand how one knows that the chimney is on fire if there is a fire burning in the grate and smoke is coming out of the top of the chimney as presumably it should? Of course if there are flames leaping out of the chimney even I could tell there was a problem, but how do you know if there is a problem halfway down?
First, there is a roaring noise from the air flow.
Then you go outside and look at the chimney. When you see flames and billows of smoke, that's it.
Scary indeed BD. Been there done that.
However, if you have a well built chimney, you may have been ahead to let the fire burn itself out. Squirting water on hot masonry can crack it and cause pieces of mortar to pop out, weakening the integrity of the chimney over the long run.
I have a neighbor that routinely would burn his chimney out. He would have flames four feet high coming out. His house and fireplace are still there.
But I can't say that I would have done it any differently. When it sounds like you have a jet engine lodged in your chimney, getting the noise stopped seems to be an instinctive priority.
Let me ask another couple of rookie questions....
As my nom-de-internet suggests, I'm a desert-dweller. That means I don't know the first thing about real fireplaces (rain-gutters too). We converted a couple of wood-burning fireplaces to gas a number of years ago, and we only burn them a couple of times a year at most.
I'm guessing it is the resins (or whatever) in the smoke that builds up and causes a chimney to catch fire, but would a gas fireplace be prone to chimney fires too?
Also, we may be building a cabin in our woodsy areas in the next couple of years, and is there a design for a fireplace which makes it more or less susceptible to chimney fires?
I do not think fake gas fireplaces leave unburned residue.
A safe wood fireplace is one that is cleaned regularly. If burning pine, fir, etc, even more so.
If there were a foolproof design all would have adopted it.
Perhaps it is more relevant to build a masonry cabin... I have never understood the folly of Californians who build redwood timber homes in arid fire zones...
Here in Israel virtually all construction is concrete or masonry. The fire departments are small, and vestigial in outlying areas like mine. Only a few foolhardy souls have built timber homes, usually kits imported from Scandinavia. I think some of them retrofitted sprinkler systems when it dawned on them that the fire department would get to our village way too late.
We lived for over twenty years in a house in Newtown, CT whose main part was built by Lt. Edward Fairchild in 1712. I naturally had fires all the time in the main fireplace.
When we moved in, I tried to hire a chimney sweep, who refused to sweep a chimney that old. I found open brickwork on the chimney stack in a second floor closet, and sealed all the holes with furnace cement. There were poorly closed stove holes in chimney stacks all over the house, often with nearby scorched lathe.
I never had a chimney fire. But during power outages, I found I could heat the whole house, excluding the t'd on kitchen wing, cut off by a door, with just a big fire in the main fireplace.
On the other hand, I gather that my cousins did start a chimney fire out here at the farm once some years ago while I was in SF.
I use the powdered creosote preventative powder EVERY weekend. It says use one scoop, I use 2. This stuff should be REQUIRED of anyone with a woodburning appliance. Turns what would be creosote to harmless black fluff. I burn 4-5 full cords hardwood every winter. I don't clean anything. In the fall- about now- I open the cleanout door on bottom of chimney, and over the summer, everything has fallen loose to the bottom. Shovel it out, and using a mirror, I can see the chimney all the way to the top is like new.... clean. That carbon black is like black gold for strawberry plants, too.
I used the fireplace only once and decided it wasn't worth the trouble and wound up cooling the house more than warming it.
In the following 40 years there have been annual chimney swift nests in there, as you can tell from the chirping when you walk into the room, alerting the chicks that the parents are arriving.
There is still the rest of the rick of wood from 40 years ago on the porch.
To heat the house in a power outage, just open the basement door. The floor stays above 40 degrees for weeks in that condition.
In pictures of old settlers cabins a lot of times you see the chimney ( the outside made of wood) leaning slightly away from the cabin with a couple of poles seemingly propping it up. Turns out they didn't have the knowledge or materials to properly build and cure their flues so they had a lot of fires. If they had a fire they'd run outside knock out the props to let the chimney and fire fall away from the cabin. Then they'd rebuild.
In my childhood home, we ran the fireplace a lot in the winter and being in the NoVA, we had a lot of pine to burn (actually, I suppose the age of the woods has more to do with it than the location - it was transitioning from pine and poplar to hardwoods). Yet I can only recall one chimney fire. I know my mother had the sweeps in but it was very rarely (I can think of only twice). But I recall that we had some aluminum caps on the chimney and we found blobs of melted metal in the lawn for the next several days. It must have been hot.
Had fireplaces for 60yrs, never cleaned the chimney. Do not burn pine that's not seasoned 2yrs. If you burn sugar maple,
the best cause of chimney fires in New England! You need
to have a very hot blazing fire once in a while, more often
if you use the fireplace on a daily basis. Burn very dry scrap
wood, for a good blaze.
If you have a damper keep it wide open!
Those cozy slow burning fires are the ones that cause creosote.
Brushes do not clean creosote, high heat does.
Just to throw my 2 cents in:
As a firefighter for 30+ years, a slightly different outlook:
we NEVER put water into a burning chimney....a real danger that the thermal shock will damage the tiles and/or mortar, and then the fire IN the chimney is a fire OUT of the chimney and into the structure.
The idea of a plastic bag "bomb" is a good one, but try to buy some dry chemical powder rather than bicarb. It doesn't cake and is very effective in killing the fire.
As a rule we don't drop chains and never brush chimneys. You can be certain that if we did, every problem that the homeowner ever has with that chimney will be our fault. And as a fire department, our only concern is to be sure the homeowner is safe and his property secure. We are not trained or qualified to brush and clean chimney systems.
Just another view, perhaps from a different perspective.
I heat 100% with wood and I burn pine and fir in a small woodstove. In the winter the cold condenses the creosote and accompanying black stuff so badly that the stove won't draft well and the heat is cut considerably. So I have to go up on the roof and run the brush thru the flue (metal not brick). For whatever reason I've never had it catch fire. My plan, such as it was, for a flue fire was I would shut the stove air supply off and grab a few things that were important to me and head for the car. We live in the woods and I'm not sure if a fire department will even respond. So either this works and the fire is strangled OR it burns itself out. Either way I will be out at the car putting the last of my stuff in the trunk when I find out.
My FP is metal box with cast liner in back and bottom and SS flue.
We burn regularly in winter with well dried wood. Have run brush
up and down flue 3x in 30 yrs and never get more than a cup or
so of black ash.
Nobody cares about this stuff any more, but when constructing a masonry chimney, there is a clay lining surrounded by a brick structure. The brick carries the load and the clay flue holds the heat. In theory, there is supposed to be a 1" gap between the flue and the brick to account for thermal expansion. It there is a chimney fire, the temperature in the flue gets up to thousands of degrees, and the clay liner expands accordingly. It's possible that the expanding liner can break the brick support layer, resulting in a house fire. We have forgotten what our ancestors knew.
DH does the really hot fire trick every couple of weeks! It has worked for us for years! We also use the powder stuff every once in a while.
We had a chimney fire, but I had, and still keep on hand, Chimfex
It loos like a road flare, but you light it like a flare and throw it in the fire box, it puts the chimney fire out in less than thirty seconds!
So, a serious question here: What happens if you have a chimney fire and you simply close the flue at the fireplace?
There is a product named Chimfex-Chimney fire extinguiser. It is available in amazon. Looks like a safety flare for cars. you scratch the top to ignite , like a flare, then place in the fireplace or stove and close the door. I think it produces zinc oxide dust , which extinguises the fire. Luckily , never had to use it .
The main thing is to have a fire hot enough so there is no smoke. Use dry wood only, never green or even wet. Let plenty of air flow. Start the fire quickly let it run a bit to heat the flue. Plan to add wood often and burn it hot rather than use lots of wood throttled down and smoldering. Hot burning and air will extract more of the heat and oxidize the stuff that would build up on a cold flue. If you must use a large charge throttled down to last longer you can expect flue fires unless you first turn the mass to charcoal which will not form creosote. In Maine in the 1950's the fire depts routinely let fires burn out but watched in case of spreading. I agree with #14, D. Lukas.