Fire Marshal's Office urges caution when using fireplaces, wood stoves

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 08:04 AM

In 2012, the Caldwell County Fire Marshal’s Office confirmed nine house fires that were related to heating sources inside the home.
Fire Investigator Dino DiBernardi said that number was actually down from previous years thanks to a better informed community and initiatives undertaken by the Fire Marshal’s Office, such as Safe Saturday, the Fire and Life Safety Festival and other prevention events in schools. He said that newer heating units were being built with more safety material in them, which helps in reducing the number of fires caused by a heating source in the home.
Nationally, heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often, these fires are attributed to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently. Creosote is one major issue DiBernardi addressed, especially with the use of fire-starting logs to help get things warmed up quickly. Anything containing resin will contribute significantly to creosote buildup in chimneys.
“What we generally try to tell people about fire starters is to use them as just that — fire starters,” he said. “Use your dry, seasoned wood as a supplement to that. There are a lot of people who use fire-starter logs as their fire, and the problem with that is they aid in the buildup of creosote. The people who use fire-starter logs aren’t using that dry, seasoned wood. What dry, seasoned wood does is burn hotter and quicker, so the buildup of creosote is less. Creosote has the biggest effect on chimneys and vents, and that buildup is what causes the chimney fires.”
He added that the compressed sawdust logs can crack and pop, sending sparks out of the fireplace or stove and causing a fire that way.
DiBernardi also wanted people to know that fire departments will install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in homes that don’t have them. Call your local department to set up the installation, especially if you use a supplemental means of heating your home.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fire Administration encourages everyone to practice the following fire safety steps to keep those home fires safely burning:

Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean
Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

Safely Burn Fuels
Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.

Protect the Outside of Your Home
Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.

Protect the Inside of Your Home
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
Extend all vent pipes at least 3 feet above the roof.