Before a certain chubby visitor tries to shimmy down your chimney this next week, it may be time to check out your fireplace.
According to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association, about 32 million American families regularly light wood fires in their fireplace, on average twice a week. Yet many people forget to have their fireplaces cleaned and inspected on a regular basis.
Fireplaces and chimneys are linked to 38 percent of all home fires each year, the NFPA said. In almost six out of 10 cases, “failure to clean” was cited as a factor contributing to ignition of the destructive home blaze.
Many of those fires start in creosote build-up in the chimney. Creosote – that black, oily substance that sticks to the walls of the chimney – comes from burning wood. It can form a black crusty surface, inches thick. When it reaches a dangerous level, creosote can easily create a flash fire, leading to roof fires and other major damage.
What are the warning signs creosote is ready to blow?
• The chimney makes a loud crackle, pop or rumbling sound like a freight train.
• You can see shooting flames or dark smoke billowing from the top of the chimney.
• Smoke comes inside the home instead of flowing up the chimney. The fireplace has an intense oily or sooty smell.
To keep that creosote from reaching crisis stage, have the chimney cleaned and inspected regularly; once a year if used regularly.
The makers of Pine Mountain firelogs recently introduced a new Creosote Buster firelog ($14.95) that attacks creosote and reduces build-up. It’s used once every 40 fires.
But such firelogs are not a substitute for cleaning. Don’t use if you suspect major creosote buildup; get the chimney cleaned first.
The National Fire Protection Association also offered these chimney safety reminders:
• Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood.
• Use artificial logs according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
• Use only newspaper, kindling wood or manufactured firestarters to start a fire.
• Never use flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid, kerosene or gasoline to start a fire.
• Supervise children around an open fire.
• Never leave a fire unattended.
• Have a fire extinguisher or fire suppressant nearby – just in case.