Dec 28, 2011 / by Alisa Hafen / 3 Comments

More than one third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes.  Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.

This is a time of year when fireplaces are used much more frequently, as well as chimneys and wood stoves.  Statistics tell us that there is a home fire across America nearly once every minute.

These facts are of particular concern when it comes to fire safety.  Spending a quiet evening in front of the fireplace or enjoying the radiant heat from a wood stove can give us much comfort and pleasure.  Yet, if used improperly and not maintained, they are fire hazards, and can easily lead to tragedy.

The main problem is creosote buildup.  This occurs naturally as a byproduct of burning wood.  If it gets to be a quarter inch thick or becomes thicker inside the chimney or stove, it can become a fire hazard and ignite.

Our best friend in the fight against wood stove and chimney fires is none other than the chimney sweep!  They have prevented untold numbers of fires over the centuries.  Your stove and/or chimney should be cleaned at least once a year.  When buying a home with a chimney, make sure it has been inspected.

If you ever do experience a chimney fire, get everyone out of the house, cut off as much of the air supply to the chimney as possible (as fire feeds oxygen), and call the fire department.  If you have an extinguisher, you should insert the nozzle into the chimney or stove, empty out all the contents, and immediately close the door.

While waiting outside for the fire department to arrive, you should wet down the roof with a garden hose as much as possible to prevent it from catching fire.  Creosote isn’t the only fire safety hazard you need to be concerned about.

Fireplaces should also be screened so that sparks can’t escape and you should never leave the house or go to bed until all embers are extinguished.

Recently, there was a tragic fire early Christmas morning in Connecticut, killing 5 people – three small children and their grandparents.   Preliminary findings indicate the fire started by fireplace embers.  A friend staying in the home had put the ashes in a bag and left them in a mudroom enclosure attached to the rear of the home.

The fire entered the house quickly and spread throughout the first floor and up two vertical openings, trapping the occupants on the upper floors.  Firefighters used a ladder and construction scaffolding outside the house to reach the third floor.

Unfortunately, they ran into extreme heat and poor visibility in a hallway.  Four firefighters were injured as they searched for the victims, including a captain who suffered second-degree burns on his face.

There had been plans for hard-wired smoke alarms, but they had not been hooked up.  The home was demolished the next day due to damage and safety concerns.

Always remember the four basics for fire safety: prevention, education, detection and response.  Keep an eye out for fire hazards and unsafe practices.

“Don’t let your dreams go up in smoke – practice fire safety.

-Author Unknown