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What Is It Like To Have A Chimney Fire?

During the fall and winter, we rely on our fireplaces to keep our families warm and to add comfort to our homes. Unfortunately, this high use time is also the most common time for chimney fires to occur. Chimney fires can wreak havoc on your chimney, damage your fireplace system, and can quickly spread to the rest of your home if not contained. Thankfully, there are several ways that homeowners can reduce their risk of accidental chimney fire.

What Happens During a Chimney Fire

What is it Like to Have a Chimney Fire - Minneapolis MN - Jack Pixley SweepsChimney fires are caused by accidental creosote ignition; stray sparks or embers from an active fire can travel up the flue and ignite the highly flammable creosote. This is most common in homes where the chimney has not been swept for several years and creosote has accumulated in the flue.

Because creosote is so flammable, it will quickly spread throughout the flue. The fire creates a strong draft with a sound often equated to a freight train; loud cracking or popping from the mortar or cement may also be heard. Outside, flames shoot out from the chimney.

While a chimney fire is extremely serious, it is important to stay calm and act quickly. Begin by calling the fire department. Next, attempt to extinguish the fire in the fireplace either with a fire extinguisher or by throwing salt on the flames; this will not put out the fire in the chimney but can help control the high temperatures and lessen the strong drafts. After the chimney fire, it is important to call a certified chimney sweep to evaluate the condition of the chimney before attempting to use the fireplace again.

Preventing Chimney Fire

The best way to prevent future chimney fires is through regular annual chimney sweeping and inspections. Annual chimney sweepings protect your flue against excessive creosote buildup; accidental ignition of this flammable substance is the leading cause of chimney fire.

Because creosote is a naturally occurring byproduct of combustion, it is impossible to prevent it from forming entirely. However, there are several ways that homeowners can prevent excessive creosote buildup.

– Only use seasoned firewood. Seasoned firewood is wood that has been chopped, cut into logs, stacked, and allowed to dry in the elements. This seasoning process removes the majority of the moisture from the wood; wood with high moisture content such as green or freshly cut wood will produce more creosote than seasoned wood.
– Do not burn at low temperatures. Low burning fires smolder for long periods of time, and their low temperaturesr create more creosote. Letting the fires burn naturally hot and allowing them to quickly extinguish can minimize creosote creation.

A chimney fire can be a scary experience; however, it should not stop you from using your fireplace again. If you think you have had a chimney fire, contact the experts at Jack Pixley Sweeps today. Our highly trained staff can evaluate the damage caused by a chimney fire and make recommendations to repair any damage the fire may have caused.

Burning the Right Firewood

Correct Firewood

What type of wood should I burn? The moisture content of firewood is actually more important than the species.  Trees are comprised of 40-60% water. If wood is not seasoned, all the fire’s energy is used to burn the water instead of creating heat. Wood should be seasoned for at least 6 months and reduced to 20-25% moisture. Failure to burn seasoned wood can cause a build up of creosote, which means a less safe and less clean burn. This is one thing your certified sweep will look for during inspection.

Almost all wood will burn at the same temperature, though dense or hard wood will burn longer. Lightweight, soft woods like pine burn faster and

Always burn seasoned firewood and not green wood or chemically treated wood.

Always burn seasoned firewood and not green wood or chemically treated wood.

will create more creosote buildup in your chimney, though in small doses, this can actually be helpful. Soft woods are easier to light and can help the more dense wood to light evenly. Mixtures of hard and soft woods are a great way to build a long lasting fire that starts easily.

Where should I buy wood? The increasingly popular slogan ‘buy local’ is a good one to follow when purchasing wood. Locally harvested firewood supports sustainable forestry and is usually less expensive because you aren’t paying for transportation cost. Choosing local will also reduce the risks that come with bringing insects and fungi that are not native.

If you aren’t familiar with how to tell seasoned from unseasoned, buy from a licensed dealer so you don’t end up with sputtering wood that clogs your chimney with creosote. Burning seasoned wood is extremely important, since green wood will give you a lot less heat and a lot more creosote, which can cause chimney fire. Here are some tips to help you tell green wood from seasoned.

Seasoned wood:

  • Turns to grey or yellow depending on species
  • No moisture inside when split open
  • Usually has cracks on the ends that indicate dryness
  • Will produce a hollow sound when 2 pieces are banged together

Most of the time, wood is sold by the chord, which usually measures about 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. This measurement will vary depending on how tight or loose the wood is stacked.

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