Over 20,000 chimney fires happen on average every year. Despite this, many homeowners don’t even realize it until they have a chimney inspection. You may have had one in your home without realizing it. But what is a chimney fire and how do you know if your chimney has had one? Learn the signs and get prevention tips to help keep your home safe.
What Is a Chimney Fire?
Any combustibles you burn in your chimney will only partially burn. Incomplete combustion is unavoidable, though you can minimize its impact by burning properly seasoned wood with a clean chimney. The residue from incomplete combustion builds up over time and lines your flue with a substance known as creosote.
Creosote itself is also combustible at the right temperature. When your chimney’s airflow is blocked or the flue is damaged, it can lead to poor airflow. Due to trapped heat, the chimney can get hotter than intended – which ignites the creosote. This is a chimney fire, and it can be very dangerous.
How Do You Identify a Chimney Fire?
Every chimney fire is different. However, many homeowners report similar noises or events that may help you recognize a chimney fire when it happens. Here are some of the most common indicators:
- Excessively loud cracking or popping noises
- Unusually dense smoke
- An intense burning smell from your fireplace
In some cases, the noises can be so loud that they resemble a train or a plane. However, not all chimney fires are so obvious. It’s important to pay attention to any active fire and make sure it doesn’t get out of control.
Common Signs of Chimney Fires
Puffy Creosote Deposits
When creosote burns, the deposits expand and leave a puffy residue. Due to the heat involved in chimney fires, any existing deposits are likely to ignite. Not only are these deposits a clear indicator of a chimney fire, but they’re also dangerous. These deposits will block the flow of air in your chimney – which will increase your chances of carbon monoxide poisoning or another chimney fire.
Distorted or Discolored Rain Cap or Damper
The heat from a chimney fire is often greater than your chimney cap or damper are rated to withstand. Discoloration or warping is common, and both are likely signs of a chimney fire. After any chimney fire, you will need to replace them. Even small warping or damage impacts the functionality of a damper.
Damaged Flue Tiles
Many homes have clay flue tile as flue liners. Clay flue tile is rated to withstand significant temperatures. However, some chimney fires burn at over 2,000 degrees, which is too hot for tile and can cause damage like cracking.
Any breach in your flue liner is a major concern. It can increase your chance for near-by combustibles in your home’s construction to catch fire. Every crack in the tile will allow the next fire a new pathway to escape the flue, potentially causing a house fire.
Roof Damage & Residue
Chimney fires also leave signs on your roof. There are a few different signs to look out for:
Direct Roof Damage – The heat from a chimney fire can scorch or warp your roof.
Damaged Accessories – If you have a TV antenna or satellite near the chimney, the heat can leave them damaged too.
Creosote Deposits – You may also find chunks of creosote on your roof following a chimney fire
Visible Cracks in the Exterior Masonry
Like flue tiles, the brick masonry of your chimney is not impervious to heat damage. When a chimney fire happens, the mortar joints or brick can crack and open new pathways for heat or fire. This is another reason that annual chimney inspections are critical. These cracks are difficult to notice, and can spell disaster if not repaired before you have another chimney fire.
You may be able to tell if a chimney fire damaged the mortar joints by looking for smoke that escapes from unusual parts of the masonry.
Scorched Areas of the Flue
The high heat of a chimney fire can also sometimes scorch away deposits in specific areas of the chimney. This can leave behind “clean” looking areas, surrounded by other combustible deposits.
Why Are Chimney Fires Dangerous?
Chimneys are designed to safely evacuate heat and smoke from your home. When they’re damaged, they don’t work as effectively. All the signs listed above indicate damage to your chimney, flue or nearby structures in your home. Any damage greatly increases your risk of heat escaping the flue before it exits your home. Nearby wood, roofing or other material are all susceptible to catching fire. When this happens, your entire home is at risk.
How to Prevent Chimney Fires
#1. Chimney Inspections
One of the best ways to prevent a chimney fire is to schedule annual chimney inspections. Not only can these inspections identify potential risks for a chimney fire, they also might spot indications of a previous one. The only things more dangerous in your fireplace than a chimney fire is a follow-up one!
#2. Watch for Unusual Smoke or Poor Airflow
If your chimney is back-puffing or if you notice smoke escaping in strange parts of your home, your flue isn’t working correctly. In some cases, the issue is benign – such as lighting a fire when the flue is full of cold air. However, smoke should never come out of the mortar joints in your masonry and is a clear sign you need a professional inspection as soon as possible.
#3. Stick to Burning Properly Seasoned Wood
Not all wood is the same. Green wood, construction wood or other non-seasoned logs will have more issues with incomplete combustion. These are guaranteed to contribute to creosote buildup quickly. Always use hardwoods that have been properly seasoned. And never use your fireplace or stove as an incinerator.
#5. Clean Your Chimney Regularly
Nothing you can safely do from home will compete with a professional chimney cleaning from CSIA-certified experts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help keep it clean! After using your fireplace and it’s safely done burning, shovel your fireplace ashes and dispose of them. If you have glass doors, clean any immediately visible soot too.
Don’t try to climb in and clean more than what’s easily reachable. Fireplace residue can be dangerous to your health, and without the right tools, you won’t be able to clean it thoroughly anyway. Contact Doctor Flue and schedule a cleaning!
Don’t Let a Chimney Fire Happen in Your Home - Call Doctor Flue!
If your chimney hasn’t been inspected or cleaned this year, contact us today! Doctor Flue offers chimney services in Michigan and Ohio and can inspect your chimney and identify any potential risks. We’ll get you set up right away so you can have peace of mind.
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