Fires can be prevented with routine chimney inspections, chief says

A chimney fire is a potentially catastrophic occurrence and, beyond the damage to ones home, it can also be deadly. Midway through this years home heating season, Chris Trombley, chief of the Champlain Volunteer Fire Department, reports chimney fires in the North Country are definitely on the upswing. While there havent been any injuries, several homes have been destroyed. Were seeing more destructive chimney fires this year, he reported. It takes a situation to get people to think about [their chimney]. Chimneys are designed to conduct heat and dangerous gases to safety, outside our homes. However, chimneys themselves have some tough circumstances to contend with, including drastic changes in temperatures from blazing hot to icy cold. This, along with the degrading effects of weather and age can lead to cracks or weak spots in a chimney. The fact is heat and gases are going to take the easiest way out, taking advantage of any shortcuts to escape, even if these routes may lead into our homes. Thats when the situation can get especially dangerous. According to Chief Trombley, chimney fires are not that difficult to fight; the problem is when they develop into something more by escaping through one of these weak spots into the home. Then it can get into the walls, which is especially dangerous in remodeled older homes where fire can be trapped between layers of wall. Poor burning practices burning wood that is too green or without enough oxygen can also lead to build-up of highly combustible creosote in the chimney. To combat these potentially life-threatening hazards, homeowners are recommended to visually inspect their chimneys at least once a year preferably twice a year, particularly if burning wood. Chimney maintenance is relatively quick and inexpensive, said Chief Trombley. Intrepid homeowners can give their chimney a basic once-over with the use of a ladder, flashlight and simple hand mirror. From the exterior, homeowners should look for any signs of decay to the structure of the chimney, such as cracks or other damage to the masonry. A ladder may be used to get a view further examine masonry for damage and a flashlight may be used to look down into the chimney for any visible signs of interior damage. At the heating source, homeowners will want to pay special attention to the junction between the chimney and the pipe connecting the actual heating source, said Chief Trombley. All the joints should be well sealed; this where the hand mirror comes in handy. After removing the connection pipe, a mirror may be used to reflect light to the top of the chimney. If you can see a perfect O of light, said Chief Trombley, the chimney is clear of obstruction. If not, a cleaning is necessary. If wood is your fuel source, youll want to put a thorough chimney cleaning on your annual to-do list regardless, he added. While it is easy enough for most to do a periodic chimney inspection, professional chimney sweeps are relatively inexpensive and can give that extra peace of mind. It doesnt take very long to do, and its not very costly, said Chief Trombley. Its a small investment versus the price of replacing a house.

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