Last year, I had built a fire in our wood burning fireplace -not unusual for a Saturday evening in the winter. It wasn’t a raging or large fire, just a normal one.

My wife went upstairs to get something to drink and yelled down to me that there were sparks falling on our deck. I thought ‘Big deal’, we do have a fire burning after all and a rouge spark falling in the snow didn’t seem unusual. I went upstairs to reassure my wife and my eyes went wide. It was raining sparks past our windows like hundreds of sparklers lit at once.

I ran out on the deck and looked up at the chimney. There must have been a six foot high flame shooting out of the top. And the sound, you cant’ forget that hum of the rushing air and flames. At the same moment, my neighbor was racing up the driveway. They said it had looked like a bomb went off and lit up the whole neighborhood. 911 had already been contacted, including by us, and we were told to get out of the house.

On my way out, I grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the wood fire and sprayed up into the chimney. The fire department came quick, even though that was the longest 10 minutes of my life. They used an infrared or heat detector to assess if there was still fire burning within the chimney or adjacent structure. They also looked down the chimney to visually inspect it.

They said it appeared that the chimney cap had a build-up of creasote and that was what had ignited.

The next day, I spoke with a Chimney Sweep and he said:
1. You should have the chimney swept every 2 years (every year it should be inspected if you have lots of fires).
2. Do NOT burn paper -even to start the fire. He said people often burn gift wrap this time of year and there are even more chemicals within that paper that creates creasote.

A typical chimney cleaning is around $150. Well worth it considering we could have lost our entire house let alone pets or ourselves! Here are a couple of other resources worth a read:

Chimney Fires, Causes and Cures & Facts about Chimney Fires

Oh and, a big thanks to the Hudson Fire Department!

Written by Michael Huber AIA LEED AP
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