Staying Safe During Woodburning Season
Captain Jim Considine, deputy fire marshal for the Guilford Fire Department, has some sobering statistics concerning chimney fires. His department has to deal with dozens of chimney fires every year and recommends some simple steps to keep you and your family safe.
“We always recommend that anybody burning in a fireplace or in their wood stove have their system inspected at least once a year by a professional chimney cleaner. This way it removes the creosote that builds up,” said Considine.
The build-up of creosote, the oily residue from wood left after incomplete combustion, is the main hazard according to Considine, and is the most common cause of chimney fires. Considine said his department receives dozens of calls for chimney fires every year, some of which lead to actual house fires.
“When that creosote starts sticking to the liner of the chimney, that’s when the conditions can create a chimney fire. Having a professional chimney sweep come out and clean the liner...will lessen your chances of having a fire,” Considine said.
“We probably get 20 to 30 chimney fires a year. Most stay contained within the chimneys themselves, but some, depending on the age of the chimney or the liner, will break through into the walls and we will end up with a structure fire,” he added. “We can get as many as five fires of this type during the winter season.”
According to Considine, there are steps homeowners can undertake to reduce the risk of a fire. Choosing the right wood burned and ensuring smoke detectors are in place and working are the easiest ways to prevent and mitigate a chimney fire.
“Obviously use dry seasoned wood. We always recommend that the wood be cut and split and seasoned for at least 12 months. Stay away from green wood and any of the pines that have a lot of sap in them. Those will produce more creosote as opposed to the dry wood,” said Considine.
Ash disposal is also a safety concern, said Considine, and can lead to structure fires when ashes are not removed properly.
“We always have 5 to 10 fires a year that can be attributed to people not disposing of ashes properly. It can actually catch a house on fire. Let the ashes stay in your fireplace or your woodstove for a good least five to seven days and then place them in a metal bucket and then take that metal bucket place them outside,” Considine said. “Place them away from your house—not on your deck, not in your garage. Put it somewhere where it won’t be able to ignite anything. People are surprised at how much heat is held by ashes. They are shocked when we tell them the five to seven days, but they really hold heat and can and do cause structure fires.”
The easiest and best way to prevent a tragedy is the standard advice of making sure that your home has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. This simple step saves lives and structures, said Considine.
“Especially if you burn wood in your house, it is essential that you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you do have s smoldering fire, it could produce carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are an obvious safety measure,” said Considine.
Another safety measure residents can take, which may seem counter-intuitive in our technological age, is putting a clear house number on your property. According to Considine, even in our GPS technical world, emergency service personnel can often have difficulty locating specific residences during an emergency.
“We do have a problem with finding addresses. We always recommend that residents put a clear number on their mailbox or a tree, especially if they have a long or shared driveway. Numbers increase our ability to respond and react, instead of spending time looking for a house,” Considine said. “Even with our technology today it can be hard. Even Google maps can be off, and we come across some addresses that are off and we can’t always rely on technology. So, a good old-fashioned number on a mailbox or tree helps us a lot.”