More than one-third of Americans use a fireplace or wood stove as their primary source of heat, and a number of homeowners use them for ambience.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), heating fires account for about 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. The cause of these fires is often a lack of cleaning.
Unlike house fires where smoke and flames shoot out of windows and walls, the fires that start inside a chimney often remain hidden. Within a short period of time, they can develop into a dangerous and deadly blaze.
"It can climb the walls and the outside of the house, so the people inside may not know there is a problem," says Captain David J. Keifer with the Wilmington Fire Department in North Carolina.
In some cases, firefighters have to dismantle the fireplace to save the rest of the home from a fire.
Parker Wiebe remembers having a fire inside his chimney.
"It kind of freaks me out still; it's just something we would never think of," Wiebe says.
Unfortunately, too many homeowners neglect having their chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional before using it for the first time each year.
"A couple hundred bucks could have saved thousands of dollars in damage," says Ron Segars, co-owner of Ron's Fireside Shop.
Smoke condenses inside the chimney, creating a tar-like mess called creosote.
Unseasoned or green wood is the biggest cause of this build-up, but extra-cold temperatures and a closed or cracked flue all contribute to the formation of creosote. Over time, when high heat hits this grime, a chimney fire can ignite.
"By not inspecting it, it can mean the total loss of, or the total destruction of your house, or the total loss of the lives inside," Capt. Keifer says.
Yearly inspection and cleaning is not a do-it-yourself job. FEMA recommends using a certified chimney specialist to take a look inside.
"I'm going to clean it and not use it," Wiebe says.
Experts say preventative care should allow you to safely keep your fireplace in use. Here are a few additional tips from FEMA:
"It's a shame that you seem to have to have destruction of property or loss of life for people to take it seriously," Segars adds.
The same amount of care you use to build a fire should also be used to maintain your chimney.
It is also recommended that you install a cap on top of your chimney to prevent birds or bats from getting in. Material from a nest can become material for a fire.
Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.
The following information is from FireplaceMagazine.com (Source: http://www.fireplacesmagazine.com/fireplaces-health/chimney-fire-prevention.html).
The following information is from AskTheChimneySweep.com (Source: http://askthechimneysweep.com/2010/08/how-to-prevent-chimney-fires/).
The following information is from Cornell University Cooperative Extension (Source: http://www.cce.cornell.edu/Environment/Documents/PDFs/Chimney%20Maintenance.pdf).
The following information is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Source: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm).
The following information is from FEMA (Source: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm).