With winter stretching on and most of the country dealing with extremely cold temperatures, it is pretty normal for people to be relying heavily on their woodstoves. Since we are well into winter (hopefully about done with it) your woodstove has probably been well used and abused over the past few months. If you have been putting off that chimney cleaning service or forgetting to burn your creosote-preventing logs, you are due for a chimney fire. Yes, I say this because I know. Been there, done that on several occasions and each time, I kick myself and think I will be more diligent in keeping my chimney clean.
Fast forward to an early morning when the temperatures outside are in the single digits and tada, the chimney is on fire. It isn’t actually the chimney that is burning. It is the creosote that lines the chimney from top to bottom. The gooey black stuff sticks to the walls of the chimney and all it takes is a little heat and a little spark and your chimney starts burning.
Recognizing a Chimney Fire
Because your chimney isn’t transparent, you will often not even know it is burning until the fire has really taken hold. It is crucial you are always aware of what a chimney fire looks like.
*Crackling noises that come from the chimney
*An odor of burning rubber or just a foul odor (this is the creosote)
*In large fires, it may sound like an airplane or jet flying over your house
*A glowing chimney
*Sparks falling down from the chimney onto the logs
*Excessive heat emanating from the chimney
Dealing with a Chimney Fire
Once you discover you have creosote burning in the chimney, you have seconds to react. Now, if you don’t think you can handle it, always call 911 and get the hell out of the house. Truthfully, experts always advise calling the fire department to take care of any fire because it can turn ugly in seconds.
However, we are a society that likes to take care of things on our own. If it is small and manageable, grab your fire poker and start tapping on the chimney. This will knock the creosote off the inside walls of the chimney and into the firebox. Close the damper to suffocate the fire. Keep in mind, as you are beating the chimney, the burning creosote will be falling onto the closed chimney pipe. You will need to open it to allow it to fall all the way down or you will just be dealing with a fire in a different spot in the chimney.
You only have minutes to get that burning creosote out of the chimney. A burning chimney can reach temperatures up to 2000 degrees. Your house can’t handle those temperatures and neither can the stovepipe. It will collapse and your home will burn. If you cannot get the creosote knocked down and the chimney to begin cooling, it is time to cut your losses and call the experts. Get out of the house. Your life is more important than trying to save your home and all the material possessions.
Preventing a fire is always the best course of action. Avoid using green or unseasoned wood. Never burn trash in a woodstove. Keep the chimney clean by hiring a service and/or burning logs designed to clean the creosote out of a chimney once a month. Another wonderful product you can keep on hand is something the fire department uses to suffocate chimney fires that have not gone beyond the stovepipe. Chimfex sticks resemble flares. When you realize you have a chimney fire, shut down all the air, toss the stick into the corner of the firebox and the flames will be suffocated within a matter of seconds.
Good luck and hopefully you will not be one of the thousands of people who lose their homes to preventable fires that start in the chimney.