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CRFPD Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wagner talks chimney fires

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wagner starts a morning at the fire station.
Hattison Rensberry
Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wagner starts a morning at the fire station.

A collection of house fires have cropped up in the valley this winter, and have some issues in common. Here is Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wagner for more on what those issues are, and how these fires can be prevented.

Wagner says "We've had a couple of chimney fires this year. Something that's very common with all chimney fires is people don't maintain their chimneys. It's important that every year you actually get your chimney swept to knock down some of the buildup of what's called creosote and then also just as important as getting it cleaned is getting it inspected at the same time.

One of the dangers with fireplaces is when you're burning wood, that smoke goes up the chimney and as it cools, it actually creates a buildup of what's called creosote, which is really unburned fuel in the smoke, other chemicals, and then as that smoke rises and cools, it builds up on the side of the chimney, and that can actually start on fire and actually have a fire inside the chimney.

Doesn't sound so bad if it stays within the chimney. Really just a quick blast of water or a fire extinguisher can put it out. But the problem becomes that it could crack the lining of the chimney and will create a space where heat and or flames and or a spark can go in the crack and start a fire. So having your chimney swept and inspected annually is huge.
There's the creosote way and then the other way is a process called pyrolysis and this is more susceptible to older houses. Over time, if that chimney was not built correctly in the flu, it could have other wood or organic materials on the outside. As that heats up, pyrolysis is a chemical reaction which really just breaks down organic material, i.e. wood. from heat. Over time, that wood basically gets drier and drier. What that does is lowers the ignition temperature of the wood. So, you know, something that maybe would have caught on fire 5 600 degrees, as low as a 200 degrees, can start that fire. And we do see that over time. So one, one thing that's important with your chimney is that you get good air flow.
The good air flow through the flue will help get the hot gases and the smoke out. It's super important annually to inspect your chimney, have some professionals come look at it, clean it, You can go ahead and make sure your flue is open and look up in there. If it's an easy, accessible chimney from the top, then go ahead and look down and just make sure you've got nothing in there."

Wagner recommends scheduling inspections and chimney sweeps in early fall, to avoid chimney fires during the winter. He also notes that animal nests in a chimney can restrict necessary air flow, and should be cleaned away often.

Hattison Rensberry has a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Drawing, but has worked for newsrooms in various capacities since 2019.
She also provides Editorial Design for the Sopris Sun.