Home heating fires are the second leading cause of home fire deaths after cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fireplaces, chimneys and flues account for a significant number of home heating fires.
Homeowners with a wood-burning fireplace or solid fuel stove or insert can protect your property and your family by having a qualified professional inspect and clean your chimney at least annually to prevent a buildup of creosote.
Creosote is a tarry residue or solid organic compound caused by incomplete combustion of wood that can build up in chimneys and ignite a chimney fire. A heavily used fireplace or stove may require periodic cleaning throughout the heating season. NFPA statistics show that failure to clean creosote from chimneys was the leading factor in 30 percent of the home heating equipment fires between 2009 and 2013.
The U.S. Fire Administration offers a series of videos showing how to safely build and tend a fire. Additional tips for safe fireplace and wood stove use:
- Equip your fireplace with a sturdy glass or metal screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
- Inspect your fireplace’s flue prior to use for any obstructions or blockage by using a flashlight and looking up the flue. This also assures that the flue’s damper control is open prior to lighting the fire.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from the fireplace or wood stove. NFPA statistics show 56 percent of fires resulting in home heating fire deaths were caused by having heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.
- Only adults should build and tend a fire; enforce a three-foot “kid-free zone” around fireplaces and wood stoves.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for inserts. For fireplaces and wood stoves, use only seasoned wood. Green wood increases creosote buildup.
- Do not burn cardboard, wrapping paper or other rubbish in the fireplace or wood stove.
- Never use lighter fluid or any flammable or combustible liquids to start the fire.
- Make sure a fully charged fire extinguisher is nearby and accessible.
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as recommended, change the batteries twice a year, and test them according to manufacturer’s recommendations, usually monthly.
- Put out fireplace fires before going to sleep or leaving your home.
- Allow ashes to cool prior to cleaning out a fireplace or wood stove. Ashes that seem cool may contain concealed hot embers for several days after your last fire. Place the ashes in a covered metal container and keep the container outdoors a safe distance away from your home or any buildings.
- Have fireplace inserts or wood stoves installed by a qualified professional who can meet the established NFPA 211 standard. Never attempt to install them yourself. According to the NFPA, 10 percent of fires involving heating appliances actually involve the ignition of structural members where flues or chimneys pass through a building’s wall.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.