Chimney fires a danger during winter season

By Caroline Klapper | Feb 01, 2013
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Travis Donaldson, of the Lake Logan Fire Department, inspects a chimney for the cause of a fire Thursday morning.

The blare of fire engines heading down the road often cause curiosity — and concern.  During the winter months, at least, the reason for the emergency response is often a chimney fire.

Such was the case Thursday morning when the Lake Logan Fire Department rushed to a fire on Lake Logan Road.

Fortunately, the home was not damaged and no one was injured, but firefighter Travis Donaldson said whenever cold temperatures hit the mountains, local fire departments know to prepare for more calls because of chimney fires.

Many people still use fireplaces and wood-burning stoves to keep warm, and according to the latest statistics from the Chimney Safety Institute of America, there are more than 25,000 fireplace and chimney fires in the U.S. every year.

Most chimney fires are caused by a buildup of a substance called creosote, a material contained in smoke that condenses on the sides of a chimney’s interior. Creosote is flammable and once it builds up, an errant flame or spark can set it on fire, which was the case with the fire on Lake Logan Road.

“It was a build up of creosote in a faulty chimney,” Donaldson said.

Chimney fires can severely damage the chimney, but such fires can spread to the rest of the home and cause damage to property and loss of life. However, most chimney fires are entirely preventable with proper chimney maintenance.

Donaldson said anyone who uses a fireplace or wood-burning stove should watch for a buildup of creosote, which looks tar-like or flaky, on the inside of the chimney.

The chimney flue should be swept out occasionally, and Donaldson recommends a full cleaning at least once a year before the cold season starts. For those fireplaces that will see heavy use, he said cleaning twice a year — once before the cold season and once during — is ideal.

For more information on preventing chimney fires, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America website at