Aaron Norford was watching TV when he heard a low roar. He says, "I thought it was something outside. It sounded like a train or a jet passing by." It was actually a fire that started in the chimney. Luckily, neighborhood firefighter, David Gayheart, was nearby. Norford says, "He had been passing by the window of his place and had seen eight to ten foot flames coming out of the chimney."
Fire crews put the blaze out quickly. There was very little damage to the house. Norford continues, "It's amazing how quick the firefighters got here. It's amazing how many of them were at the disposal of the community."
The Norford chimney was two years overdue for a cleaning. An easy thing to put off until a chimney fire happens. Jim Meehan works for Sootbusters, Inc. He's been cleaning chimneys for two years. He says, "You wanna get your chimney cleaned every year because you wanna remove the creosote that builds up inside your chimney."
Creosote is deposits of unburned, flammable, tar vapors from wood smoke. Meehan says even if you don't have it cleaned every year, you should have it inspected. He continues, "It takes a little extra heat to catch something on fire and boom there you go."
The Norfords plan on using the fireplace once it passes inspection. But for now, they are simply thankful. Aaron Norford says, "We feel really fortunate that it was only going for a couple of minutes and it was spotted so quick. It's was like somebody was watching over us."
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Chimney Q and A
Q: How should I have my chimney cleaned?
A: The National Fire Protection Association standard 211 says, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.
Q: My fireplace stinks, especially in the summer. What can I do?
A: The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of wood burning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good cleaning will help but usually won't solve the problem completely. There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney.
Q: When I build a fire in my upstairs fireplace, I get smoke from the basement fireplace.
A: This has become quite a common problem in modern air tight houses where weather proofing has sealed up the usual air infiltration routes. The fireplace in use exhausts household air until a negative pressure situation exists. If the house is fairly tight, the simplest route for makeup air to enter the structure is often the unused fireplace chimney. As air is drawn down this unused flue, it picks up smoke that is exiting nearby from the fireplace in use and delivers the smoke to the living area. The best solution is to provide makeup air to the house so the negative pressure problem no longer exists, thus eliminating not only the smoke problem, but also the potential for carbon monoxide to be drawn back down the furnace chimney. A secondary solution is to install a top mount damper on the fireplace that is used the least.
Q: I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?
A: Without a doubt! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces.
Source: www.csia.org (Chimney Safety Institute of America Web site) contributed to this report.