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Fire Department Provides Home Heating Safety Information Regarding Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

Fire Department Provides Home Heating Safety Information Regarding Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

September 29, 2020

All the tree debris and wood, combined with the cooler temperatures, has many homeowners thinking about lighting a fire in the fireplace or wood stove to take away the chill.  

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department encourages homeowners to not burn storm debris wood inside and to have fireplace and wood stove chimneys cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.  According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fireplaces or chimneys are involved in one out of three home heating fires, with failure to clean chimneys the leading factor contributing to home heating fires. 

Most people don’t think about the condition of a fireplace or wood stove chimney, but a blocked or dirty chimney can cause a fire that damages and destroys a home.  Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to safely contain wood-fuel fires while providing heat, and the chimney is meant to expel the by-products of combustion (smoke) produced when wood burns.  These by-products cool as they flow up the chimney, condensing on the inner walls and leaving a residue called creosote. Creosote is highly flammable, and could result in a chimney fire if enough builds up. 

Burning unseasoned wood, such as tree debris from the August derecho, encourages dangerous creosote buildup. This is because unseasoned wood uses more initial energy to drive off water trapped in the wood cells, resulting in cooler smoke which rises slower and stays in the chimney longer, forming creosote.  According to NFPA, creosote plays a role in 19 percent of all home heating fires each year. 

To help prevent chimney fires, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department offers the following safety tips: 

  1. Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.
  2. Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.
  3. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney. After the August derecho, chimney caps should be checked to be sure they are safely in place. 
  4. Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn unseasoned wood in your fireplace or wood stove.
  5. Build it right. Place firewood or fire logs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate using the top-down method.
  6. Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 3 feet away from the hearth.
  7. Use a fireplace screen. Use a metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.
  8. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to change the alarm batteries.
  9. Never leave a fire in a fireplace unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.
  10. Have an annual chimney inspection performed by a certified chimney sweep. A certified chimney sweep has earned the industry's most respected credential by passing an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimney and venting systems.

The Fire Department would also like to remind citizens that burning tree debris and leaves outside is prohibited. 

For more information about fire safety, please visit the Fire Department website at www.cedar-rapids.org/fire.

© 2020  Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 101 First Street SE

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