Home Fires in the News Reveal Fireplace Safety Breaches
While the leading cause of household fires involves cooking, the second leading cause involves heating systems, including fireplaces, according to a recent study. There’s no need to be fearful about using fireplaces, however. If a fireplace and chimney is inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep and if you follow proper procedures, such as with the disposal of ashes, you can enjoy all the pleasures of a fireplace in warmth and safety.
The following news stories from 2011 and 2012 expose fireplace safety issues which result in devastating and completely avoidable house fires.
A house fire which caused approximately $40,000 in damages started while the residents slept in Tualatin, Oregon. Before going to bed, they had crammed wood and cardboard into the fireplace. Investigators determined that the fireplace had been overloaded and as a result flames entered the wall space above the fireplace and worked their way into the attic. Everyone escaped safely.
Roaring fires should be avoided since they can cause chimney fires from the creosote deposits in the flue. Fireplaces should never be overloaded. Wall or roof materials can become overheated, particularly if the fireplace construction includes metal. Use just enough fuel to keep the fire burning at the desired temperature.
A Connecticut home worth upwards of $1.7 million burned beyond repair on Christmas Day 2011, and five people were killed in the blaze. Investigators determined that the fire was caused by improper handling of the embers. The hot ashes had been placed in a paper bag and are believed to have been taken to either an outside trash area or a mud room. There were smoke alarms in the house, but none of them were operational. There was evidence that those who died attempted to escape the flames but were unable to.
A home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, caught fire after hot embers which were being transported to a garbage can fell onto the porch, unseen. After smoldering for hours, the embers caused the porch and the rear of the home to go up in flames. In spite of the fact that the smoke alarms in the home did not have batteries, everyone in the household escaped without injury. The home itself, however, sustained approximately $100,000 worth of damages.
Fireplace ashes need to be handled with extreme caution. Good advice from one firefighter is to place ashes from the fireplace into a metal container, wet them, and cool them for several days before disposing of them.
Debris Near Fireplaces
Embers flew from a fireplace onto combustible debris nearby and caused a home in Portland, Oregon, worth about $100,000 to be burned beyond repair. Fortunately, the elderly resident of the home suffered no further harm than smoke inhalation. This type of fire is all too common, where people place combustible objects too near the fireplace.
Firebox in Disrepair
Not far from Seattle, Washington, on Bainbridge Island, an enormous 100-year-old home burned down; and all of the occupants escaped the blaze safely. Investigators determined that the heat from the fireplace ignited wood that was directly in contact with the back of the fireplace. This situation in which the firebox was compromised is the type of hazardous problem that a professional chimney sweep will identify.
A homeowner in Salina, Kansas, learned the hard way that yard debris should not be burned in the fireplace because they aren’t designed for that purpose; it’s an extremely hazardous practice. The man placed a bag of leaves and other debris into the fireplace and then went back outside. After hearing the smoke alarm going off inside the house, he returned to find that his home had caught fire. Firefighters responded quickly and were able to contain the blaze.
Northeastern Chimney, Inc
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110