Fire officials warn residents to clean, inspect chimneys

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Officials with the Jonesboro Fire Department told Region 8 News more people need to be aware of dangers associated with chimney fires. Firefighters responded to two fires Tuesday night because of faulty chimneys. JFD responded to a call at 3300 Candlewood at 7:56 p.m. Tuesday. Three minutes later, firefighters were called to 312 Huntcliff.

"Two of the fires were directly related to the chimney themselves," said Alan Dunn, Station One Battalion Chief.

Dunn said both structures were damaged, but no one was injured. Dunn said chimney fires aren't uncommon.

"A lot of the problems are a lack of maintenance. A chimney requires maintenance just like your automobile or your heating and air unit in your home," said Dunn.

Dunn said other cities have reported chimney fires. Scott Baltz, Pocahontas Fire Chief, told Region 8 News his department responded to three residential fires three consecutive nights in early February. He said two of those fires were because of faulty chimneys.

"Sometimes you could have a chimney fire and may not even realize it. You may hear something and not really know what it is, and by the time you recognize what it is, the chimney has already burnt out," said Dunn. "Some people think or believe that if you have chimney fire, that it cleans the chimney out. In reality, while it may burn creosote up, but that creosote is, the remnants of it are still in the chimney so you need to have it cleaned and inspected."

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Fire Administration Office, more than one-third of Americans use fireplaces and wood stoves as primary heat sources in their homes. The USFA concludes 36% of residential home fires in rural areas per year are due to heating sources.

"A lot of times what causes a chimney fire is people will put a cardboard box or paper inside the fireplace and the flames get carried up into the chimney and it ignites the creosote that's inside the chimney," said Dunn.

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"The chimney itself is designed to carry the smoke, the heat and the gases out from the fireplace. It's not designed to have a fire inside the chimney itself," said Dunn. "Sometimes its poor construction. Sometimes the flume in the chimney itself will fail as a result of the fire and spread to the combustibles around it, such as the roof decking or the framing."

Dunn has been a firefighter for more than 20 years and he's cleaned chimneys part-time for more than 15 years.

"I think they look at it as something sitting over in the corner or along the wall in the house and they never think about it," said Dunn. "They go out and pick up some old scrap wood or lumber and burn that and you really shouldn't be burning scrap wood and lumber. You should be burning cut seasoned wood in your fire place."

Dunn said chimneys should be cleaned and inspected at least twice a year by a certified chimney specialist.

"One of the things you might look at if you wanted to look up there yourself is if you see a lot of buildup, a lot of black tar or crusty looking substances on the wall of the chimney, then that may be an indication that it needs to be cle3aned," said Dunn.

Dunn said areas around fireplaces should be cleared of flammable materials.

"A lot of people buy vent free gas logs to put inside their fireplace, especially a factory built fireplace. The factory built fireplace is designed to have airflow going in and around it and when you shut the damper off to the chimney, then it creates an overheated effect for the fireplace," said Dunn.

"You will see some older chimneys that are just brick and have no liner whatsoever. No clay liner or metal or steel liner. That doesn't meet the NFPA standard that we have today," said Dunn. "Many years ago when they were built, that's how the built them. Over the course of time, we've learned that those houses burn to the ground."

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