Understanding Chimney Fires: Causes and Prevention

published on July 30, 2023 by admin

Introduction: Chimney fires are a significant concern for homeowners, posing not only a threat to their property but also to their safety. A chimney fire occurs when flammable deposits, such as creosote, build up in the chimney lining and ignite. In this blog, we will explore the various causes of chimney fires, including the type of fuel used, the importance of regular chimney sweeping, the benefits of camera surveys, and the role of the fire brigade in mitigating such incidents.

  • Fuel Type: The type of fuel burned in a fireplace or wood stove can significantly impact the risk of a chimney fire. Wood, for example, is a common fuel used in residential settings, but it releases volatile substances like creosote when burned. Creosote is a highly flammable material that can accumulate on the chimney walls, especially if the wood is not adequately seasoned or if the fire does not reach a high enough temperature to burn it off. Other fuels, such as coal and pellets, can also contribute to creosote buildup and increase the risk of chimney fires.

  • Chimney Sweeping: Regular chimney sweeping is one of the most crucial preventive measures against chimney fires. As mentioned earlier, creosote buildup can occur over time, obstructing the chimney and increasing the likelihood of a fire. Professional chimney sweeps can remove these deposits, ensuring that the chimney remains clear and safe. The frequency of chimney sweeping depends on the type of fuel used and the frequency of fireplace or stove usage, but as a general guideline, an annual inspection and cleaning are recommended.

  • Camera Surveys: Modern technology has revolutionized the way chimney inspections are carried out. Camera surveys involve inserting a specialized camera into the chimney, allowing experts to visually inspect the interior of the flue. This advanced technique provides a detailed view of the chimney’s condition, making it easier to identify potential hazards such as cracks, blockages, or excessive creosote buildup. Regular camera surveys can catch problems early on and prevent them from escalating into dangerous situations.

  • Fire Brigade’s Role: Despite taking all precautions, chimney fires can still occur. In such instances, the role of the fire brigade becomes crucial in minimizing damage and ensuring the safety of occupants. When a chimney fire is suspected, it’s vital to contact emergency services immediately. Firefighters are trained to handle chimney fires and will know the best approach to extinguish the flames safely. They may also inspect the property for any structural damage or further risks.

Types of chimney fires: There are two types of chimney fires that are quite easy to tell apart, but both have the ability to cause substantial damage to a chimney/property.

  • Free burning – these are the fires that sound like you have your own freight train or roaring airplane in your chimney. The blaze is loud and unmistakable. Oftentimes there might be dramatic flames; or billowing smoke may lap out of the chimney top. People passing by the home may be alarmed by the noise and sights from this fire.

  • Slow burning – this quieter version of a chimney fire is no less dangerous. The homeowner may not even know it has taken place. These undetected fires burn slowly and at high temperatures that can cause more than just structural damage to the chimney, they can easily catch flammable parts of the property on fire as well.

Conclusion: Chimney fires can be a devastating experience for homeowners, but with proper understanding and preventive measures, they can be largely avoided. Being mindful of the type of fuel used, scheduling regular chimney sweepings, utilizing camera surveys for inspections, and knowing the importance of the fire brigade’s role can collectively help in reducing the risk of chimney fires. Remember, regular maintenance and vigilance are key to keeping your chimney safe and ensuring peace of mind during the colder months when we seek warmth and comfort from our fireplaces or stoves.

Fire Statistics

In 2021, Ireland’s fire brigade units were called to 4,894 household incidents. Of these call outs, 2,495 incidents were caused by chimneys, flues, or hot ashes.

If you do experience a chimney fire or your chimney sweep thinks there has been some damage sustained, then call us here at PCLA on 01 5620082 and our expert team of loss assessors can help you navigate the claim process with your insurance company and reinstate your property to its original condition.

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