How To Put Out a Chimney Fire
A fireplace and heating stove can provide a safe, reliable, and inexpensive source of warmth for families during the winter when properly maintained. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Fire departments in northern Wisconsin, southern Illinois, and around the country respond to more than 48,000 residential fires annually, according to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics.
In 2021, there were three fires in the state in one day, claiming the lives of five individuals, including three children. A battalion fire chief responding to one of the incidents said that cleaning the chimney is not enough – you need to have a chimney inspection to ensure the bricks are good.
How to Tell if Your Chimney is On Fire
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), most chimney fires are small, and homeowners are unaware they had a chimney fire until the damage is discovered during a routine chimney inspection or a more dangerous event occurs.
In fact, there have been many situations where families inside their houses were unaware of flames shooting out of the stack until a neighbor or passerby alerted the fire department and homeowner. Also, it can be catastrophic if a chimney fire erupts in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping. That’s why you should always extinguish a wood-burning fireplace before going to bed or leaving your home.
These are some of the signs of a chimney fire:
- Flames are shooting out of the chimney
- Loud popping sounds
- Roaring sounds like an airplane or freight train
- Smoke is filling up your house
- Your fireplace smells like a campfire
What to Do First
1. Remain calm and safely evacuate everyone (including pets) from the house.
2. Stay low and crawl to the nearest exit if your house is filling with smoke. Stay as far back from the house when you get outside. Do not go back inside if there is smoke in your home.
3. Call 9-1-1 to report the fire.
4. Close the damper if it is safe to do so.
5. Use a fire extinguisher or suppressant to douse the flames in the firebox.
6. Spray water on the exterior flames with a garden hose until firefighters arrive.
What fuels a chimney fire?
A fire is a chemical reaction that requires three ingredients: heat, fuel, and oxygen. So, let’s see how these three key ingredients come together to start a fire in your chimney.
Heat: The heat source is the fire burning in your firebox or heating stove. The heat travels up the flue, where the smoke and exhaust are expelled into the atmosphere.
Fuel: Creosote is naturally created during combustion and sticks to the interior walls of the chimney as the smoke rises the flue. Without regular chimney sweeping, this volatile organic compound hardens into a brown or black, oily, or tarry material. It is highly flammable at this stage and serves as fuel when the heat reaches a specific temperature. Animal nests, twigs, and other combustible material in the flue can also fuel a fire.
Oxygen: The final ingredient is oxygen. Without oxygen, there is no fire. That’s why you must open the damper before lighting the fireplace. When there is a chimney fire, quickly closing the damper cuts off the oxygen supply. However, if there are cracks in the bricks or flue liner, there could be sufficient oxygen to feed the fire.
Extinguishing a chimney fire
You can’t assume a fire in the chimney will burn itself out. If the temperature is hot enough, a fast-moving fire can spread to your attic, roof, and walls, engulfing an entire home in minutes. So, you must act fast to extinguish a chimney fire. When extinguishing a fire, close the damper to cut off the oxygen supply, or it could reignite.
- An A-B-C rated fire extinguisher is an essential firefighting tool that any homeowner can use to extinguish a small cooking, chemical, or chimney fire. Pull the pin, and spray the flames in the firebox to extinguish the fire.
- Chimfex® is a popular fire suppressant that can extinguish a fire in less than thirty seconds. It works by lighting it like a road flare and throwing it on the fire. The suppressant absorbs the oxygen, starving the fire of a critical element it needs to survive.
- FireEx™ by A.W. Perkins Co. works like Chimfex, but there is no lighting required. Instead, a homeowner tosses the fire suppressant into the fire burning in a fireplace or heating stove.
How to Prevent Chimney Fires
Chimney fires are entirely preventable with annual chimney inspections and professional cleaning. So, if it has been more than 12 months since your last chimney inspection or cleaning, call Burlington Fireplace at 262-763-3522 to schedule an appointment today.
Our certified chimney professionals serve customers in Walworth, WI, Racine, WI, Antioch, IL, Zion, IL, and surrounding communities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. You can also contact us online.