By Jim Buell, 2nd Assistant Chief, Shelburne Fire Department
In the first five days of 2016, the Shelburne and Charlotte fire departments responded to three chimney fires, two in Charlotte and one in Shelburne, with devastating results in two of those homes.
When was your chimney last cleaned?
If it has not been cleaned within this past year, then you are due. Keeping your chimney cleaned and inspected is one of the best things you can do for your home and family if you use your fireplace, a woodstove or pellet stove.
Cleaning and inspection must be done by a certified professional. Take some time to do a little research on who others have used, make a phone call and talk to them to understand what they will do for you and then make an appointment to have them come out.
When responding to these types of calls, we find people may be burning green wood. Make sure you wood is not green, but dry. Green wood causes incomplete burning which in turn causes creosote to build up and that is what catches on fire. Smoldering fires cause this as well, so get that fire going nice and hot and let some of the creosote burn off.
Professionals cleaning your chimney can reduce this hazard for you so that during the wood-burning season you will know that this buildup has been removed or minimized. They will also inspect your chimney for mortar that may be missing or cracking, or check out a chimney liner to make sure it is still viable. They will also look at your house where the chimney goes through the roof. This is one spot where fires do start because the heat is transferred to your building causing deterioration in the materials used to construct your home. Have this looked at because you may need to replace some rafters, roofing material or other items that need repair.
Be cautious and vigilant when using your fireplace or stove. Keep combustible items away so that radiant heat doesn’t transfer over to them and a fire is started. Some homeowners put up a small fence around their stove to keep animals and children away so burns are prevented.
Check your smoke and CO detectors regularly. Ensure that the batteries are fresh and the detectors activate when you press the test button. This is your only early warning system that something is amiss and you need to call 9-1-1 and evacuate.
Have a home evacuation plan in place so everyone knows two ways out of each room, and your family has a central meeting point outside. When the fire department arrives, it makes our job a lot easier to know that everyone is out and accounted for. Don’t ever go back in, even for pets. Tell us what you need and we will make every attempt to get that item for you as well as taking the time to protect your belongings with tarps.
If you are disposing of ashes from your fireplace or woodstove, put them in a metal container to take them out of your house and then properly dispose of them outside. Coals and ashes can still be warm and can flame up even though you may think the fire has been extinguished and they have sat long enough to move them outside. Do not store these ashes in your garage, and never carry them in paper bags.
Let us all enjoy the warmth and ambiance that a wood fire provides, but please do it safely.
If you have any questions, feel free to call the non-emergency number at the station (802) 985-2366 and leave a message. We will get back to you. We want you to be safe, and remember, fire prevention and safety isn’t just one week of the year, but all 52!