Fire Safety: Chimney Fires – What are the Risks?

Fire Safety: Chimney Fires – What are the Risks?

With the darker nights in the cold winter months, it’s a real treat to light up and all gather around, soaking up the energy and the atmosphere a warm and roaring fire creates. However, if the last time you had your chimney swept was when the original Mary Poppins was shown in cinemas then it’s about time to do something about it!

When we go out house hunting in search of the perfect home, a large beautiful fireplace is often high on the criteria list. Being the focal point of attention during the winter months when the seasoned logs can be brought in from outside and put to light bringing a wonderful aroma and warm cosy feel to the room that you only get at that time of year. Unfortunately, however, during each winter month, firefighters in the UK attend more than a thousand chimneys fires [source], with each preventable fire being caused through ignorance of the risk that an unswept or improperly used chimney poses. 

What happens during a chimney fire?

Chimney fires are classed as fires which are contained within the structure of the chimney. When a fire is lit in the fireplace, its heat rises up through, taking with it smoke and unburnt particles of flammable substances which condense and stick to the sides of the cooler chimney. As you light up daily fires over the winter months and throughout the years, more and more of this dirt, or soot, gets stuck.

Eventually, there will be a thick coating of highly flammable particles on the inside just waiting for the opportunity to ignite and, when it does, it can reach temperatures of over a 1000 degrees celsius! This is hot enough to melt metals and can cause severe structural damage within the lining of the chimney and the surrounding masonry. Some of which might be flammable materials which subsequently leads to the risk of a fire in your home. 

What is a slow-burning chimney fire?

Mostly, chimney fires go unnoticed first time round as there is rarely a dramatic explosion, and worryingly you might not even know about it. The reduced airflow within the chimney can lead to a slow-burning fire which causes an immense amount of damage which can be extremely costly to repair.

What’s more, if there is damage to the chimney structure or flue, then the dangerous toxic gases it is designed to remove, can inadvertently be kept within the home environment, leading to the silent killer, carbon monoxide, to fill the air around you and your family.

What are the signs of a chimney fire in progress?

  • A roaring sound coming from inside the chimney
  • Flames and sparks seen from the outside of your home
  • Strong smells of smoke throughout your home

If you suspect a chimney fire in your’s or a neighbour’s home, call 999 without delay. Seek expert advice from your local fire services as to what to do if you experience a chimney fire, the knowledge of which may just save a life.

How do you know if there has been a chimney fire in a home?

When you carry out your home fire safety check you need to ensure that you include the inspection of your fireplace and any chimney in the home to your to-do list. Make sure you also inspect any Rayburns or wood burners in your home.

The following are obvious signs:

  • Soot on the ground around a fireplace that may look puffy or honey-comb like.
  • Damage to the roof tiling around the chimney
  • A melted or discoloured chimney cover
  • Heat damaged walls in or around the chimney
  • Any signs of a melted or damaged TV aerial on the roof near the chimney

If there are any of these signs or you are concerned in any way about the state of your chimney, then seek expert advice, lighting up that fire is not worth the risk.

Prevention is always better than cure. 

Ensure you maintain your chimney and reduce your risks of chimney fires by following simple advice to regularly sweep and clean the chimney, use only seasoned wood in the fire and do not burn anything overnight. The National Association of Chimney Sweeps can help to recommend a registered chimney sweep who can give guidance on when to sweep out your chimney depending on the type you have in your home. Another fire safety tip is to ensure you have a working smoke and carbon monoxide alarm fitted in your home.

So now that you are aware of the fire hazards and potential of carbon monoxide poisoning from a dirty and unswept chimney, make certain you act now to protect you and your family from the dangerous risks!