Residents throughout Massachusetts know how brutally cold and long New England winters can be, and to keep comfortable during chilly days, many homeowners burn fires in their fireplaces or wood burning stoves throughout the duration of the winter months. While stoking a fire on a cool evening is a great way to keep your home warm, improper care of your fireplaces can lead to unexpected, damaging chimney fires.
Every year, there are 45,000 reported home fires throughout the United States. To prevent hazardous, damaging chimney fires, you have to take proper fireplace safety precautions, including having your fireplaces and wood burning stoves inspected and cleaned often — especially if you anticipate frequent use of these fixtures.
How to Avoid Chimney Fires
Fireplaces and flues add to the comfort and aesthetic of your home, but dirty and poorly maintained chimneys can eventually cause chimney fires that damage your home’s structure and can severely injure people.
Chimney fires are incredibly dangerous events because they often occur undetected, but signs of a fire include high levels of dense smoke, loud cracking noises and an intense smell. These fires are caused by a buildup of creosote, also known as soot — excessive creosote is caused by restricted chimney airflow, the burning of unseasoned wood and unusually cool chimney temperatures.
If you’re a New England homeowner who enjoys using your wood burning stove or fireplace often throughout the winter, it’s crucial that you understand how to avoid damaging and dangerous chimney fires. Keep your home and family safe by following these fire prevention tips:
- Inspections: Regularly look over your fireplace or wood burning stove’s flue vents, noting special instructions from your manufacturer guidelines and keeping these pieces regularly cleaned.
- Cleanings: Have your chimney thoroughly cleaned at least once every year before heavy use or when the soot buildup is one-quarter inch thick. Make sure your chimney cleaning professional is certified with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
- Burnings: Burn your fireplace or wood stove in the “burn zone” every day. Regularly burning your stove or fireplace in the burn zone can reduce the buildup or creosote. When using your fireplace, make sure to only use the hardest woods — like hickory, ash and maple — that have been seasoned for at least a year.
Fire Prevention Tips at Home
Understanding how to prevent chimney fires is important for all New England homeowners, and so is knowing how to take necessary precautions while using your fireplace to protect your home and family. If you plan on using your fireplace or wood burning stove regularly throughout the winter to dull that persistent chill, note the following tips to prevent home fires:
- Keep a fire extinguisher available and easily accessible. Also, ensure all family members know where the extinguisher is located and understand how to operate it properly.
- Install smoke detectors in every room with a wood stove or fireplace, and regularly test the devices to guarantee proper functionality.
- Regularly remove ashes and store them in a non-combustible, lidded metal container that’s kept away from flammable items.
- Avoid soot buildup that can lead to fires by burning only dry, seasoned wood — not green or damp materials.
- Ensure your fireplaces or wood burning stoves have tight-fitting glass doors or smoke screens to prevent stray sparks from igniting nearby flammable objects like carpeting, drapes or other materials.
- Do not use flammable materials or liquids to accelerate or start a fire.
- Never leave a fireplace unattended, and always monitor pets and children around burning fires.
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