Chimney Fires: Don’t Let This Happen To You!
By Debbie Cook, FF, PIO
Time for that annual checkup…Have you had your chimney inspected and cleaned? Everyone enjoys a cozy, warm fire on a chilly evening. However, many neglect to have annual chimney inspections and cleaning done. Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires, which damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. Mariposa County Fire has already responded to a few calls for chimney fires. The information below is being shared and hopefully will eliminate that call for help.
Chimney fires can burn explosively - noisy and dramatic enough to be detected by neighbors or passersby. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney. Homeowners report being startled by a low rumbling sound that reminds them of a freight train or a low flying airplane. However, those are only the chimney fires you know about. Slow-burning chimney fires don't get enough air or have enough fuel to be as dramatic or visible. But, the temperatures they reach are very high and can cause as much damage to the chimney structure - and nearby combustible parts of the house - as their more spectacular cousins. With proper chimney system care, chimney fires are entirely preventable.
Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to safely contain wood-fueled fires, while providing heat for a home. The chimneys that serve them have the job of expelling the by-products of combustion - the substances given off when wood burns.
As these substances exit the fireplace or wood stove, and flow up into the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs. The resulting residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney is called creosote. Creosote is black or brown in appearance. It can be crusty and flaky ... tar-like, drippy and sticky ... or shiny and hardened. Often, all forms will occur in one chimney system. Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities - and catches fire inside the chimney flue- the result will be a chimney fire.
How Chimney Fires Damage Chimneys
Masonry chimneys. When chimney fires occur in masonry chimneys - whether the flues are an older, unlined type or are tile lined to meet current safety codes - the high temperatures at which they burn (around 2000' F) can "melt" mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material. Most often, tiles crack and mortar is displaced, which provides a pathway for flames to reach the combustible wood frame of the house. One chimney fire may not harm a home. A second can burn it down. Enough heat can also conduct through a perfectly sound chimney to ignite nearby combustibles.
Pre-fabricated, factory-built, metal chimneys. To be installed in most jurisdictions in the United States, factory-built, metal chimneys that are designed to vent wood burning stoves or pre- fabricated metal fireplaces must pass special tests determined by Underwriter's Laboratories (U.L.). Under chimney fire conditions, damage to these systems still may occur, usually in the form of buckled or warped seams and joints on the inner liner. When a chimney fire damages pre-fabricated, factory-built, metal chimneys, they should no longer be used and must be replaced.
Ways to Keep the Fire You Want... from Starting One You Don't! Chimney fires don't have to happen. Here are some ways to avoid them:
• Use seasoned woods only (dryness is more important than hard wood versus soft wood
• Build smaller, hotter fires that bum more completely and produce less smoke
• Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees; these can spark
a chimney fire
• Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures where wood stoves
are in use, so you can adjust burning practices as needed
• Have the chimney inspected and cleaned on a regular basis
Clean chimneys don't catch fire. To read more about chimney safety, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org. Photos courtesy of New England Chimney Sweeps, Inc.
Mariposa County Fire Prepares for Fire Prevention Week
By Debbie Cook, FF, PIO
“Stay Fire Smart! Don’t Get Burned!” is this year’s theme for Fire Prevention Week scheduled for October 4th through 10th. During the week, fire departments across the country share important safety messages with their communities showing simple ways to keep homes safe from the leading causes of home fires; cooking, heating, electrical and smoking.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) the history of Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,490 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into October 9, 1871 when it did most of its damage.
One of Mariposa County Fire Department (MCFD) goals is to educate the community. If you have been following the monthly safety articles, you have been informed about electrical safety, drowning prevention, smoke alarms, safety in the home, cooking fires and our most recent article about BBQ safety. MCFD believes that by educating the community, tragic events such as home fires and deaths can be avoided. To save a life or property is a firefighter’s greatest deed, but to prevent them from happening in the first place is truly our greatest reward.
Look for more information in the coming weeks.
Grilling Safety: Reduce the Risk of Fire and Injury
By Debbie Cook, firefighter, PIO
Summer time barbeques and the gathering of family and friends are some of the season’s best times. While relatively safe, it is important to be aware that gas and charcoal grills can cause structure fires and outdoor fires as well as personal injuries. According to the Insurance Information Institute, grilling accidents cause more than 2,000 fires, 300 grill-related injuries and over 30 deaths each year.
Here are a few safety tips:
· Position BBQ grills a minimum of three feet away from the house, garage and landscaping on a flat, fireproof surface.
· Never leave the grill unattended. Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose close by in case the fire gets out of hand. But, if it is a grease fire, DO NOT use water as it will spread the grease and flare up.
· If using charcoal briquettes, only use a limited amount of starter fluid made for those grills. Never use gasoline. After use, extinguish coals with water allowing coals to cool completely before discarding them.
· If using a gas barbeque, always light the barbecue with the lid open. If it doesn’t start after a couple tries, turn the gas off and wait five minutes before trying again. Store propane or gas cylinders outside away from the house.
· Barbecue grills require regular maintenance. Check all connections for leaks. Mix liquid dish soap and water then spray all joints and connections watching for tiny bubbles to form. If they do, you need to fix the leak BEFORE you light the grill. Also check for grease build-up and rusted and corroded burners that can burn a hole possibly causing an external fire, skin burns or an explosion of the propane tank.
· For personal safety, do not wear loose fitting clothing that can be blown over the flame and ignite. Also, never leave young children unattended in the vicinity of a hot barbecue.
Mariposa County Fire encourages fire safety. Please visit our web site at www.mariposacounty.org/fire and click on safety tips for more information.
By Debbie Cook, firefighter, PIO
How safe is your home from winter fires? Last month’s article contained information about carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning caused by heating appliances used in the home. Of great concern to Mariposa County Fire is the safety of the community, so more research was done regarding supplemental heating. Please share the following with friends and family.
Mountain communities rely on different forms of supplemental heating in the home. Unlike living in the city, many use wood stoves, fireplaces, kerosene, portable gas or electric heaters as a main heating source. While these heating appliances are relatively safe, there are precautions you should take.
Have you had your wood burning stoves, chimneys and stovepipes inspected for creosote build-up? Are your heating appliances in a safe location away from curtains, chairs and firewood? Are portable heating appliances turned off when family members leave the house. Do you burn only proper fuel and allow for proper ventilation?
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has an excellent Fire Safety Checklist. http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/556.html
. This valuable information will assist you in spotting possible fire safety hazards that may be present in your home. You will find other information as well about safety with cooking equipment, cigarette lighters and matches, materials that burn in your home and more. You may be surprised at what you didn’t know.