Only you can prevent a chimney fire

Jan 17, 2024 | Mountain Emergency Updates

Chimney fires are a major cause of wintertime residential fires. (Contributed photo)


Senior Writer

Smoky Bear’s familiar warning is a reminder that there is a lot that you can do to prevent a devastating chimney fire from ruining your day and laying waste to your home. Now that winter has arrived, most homes need a little extra help from additional heat sources such as a furnace, space heater or a fireplace.

San Bernardino County Fire Protection District Mountain Area Battalion Chief Michael McClintock urges residents to keep safe while they keep warm. Noting that creosote accumulation is the leading cause of chimney fires, McClintock said, “As temperatures fall and you spend more time indoors in front of the fireplace, the last thing you want to think about is the condition of your chimney. Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires, which damage or destroy homes and injure people.”

McClintock recommends the following measures in order to prevent a potentially deadly chimney fire from destroying your home:

Fireplace safety

• Keep a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out.

• Do not burn paper in your fireplace.

• Put the fire out before you go to sleep or leave your home.

• Put ashes in a metal container with a lid, outside, at least three feet from your home.

Wood stove safety

• Make sure your stove is three feet from anything that can burn.

• Do not burn paper in your wood stove.

• Put the fire out before you go to sleep or leave your home.

Heating fire facts

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), home heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire injuries, and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths and direct property damage.

According to the latest home heating fires report from NFPA, an average of 44,210 home heating fires occurred each year between 2016 and 2020, resulting in an estimated 480 civilian deaths, 1,370 civilian injuries and $1 billion in direct property damage. Based on 2016-2020 annual averages, space heaters were the type of heating equipment responsible for the largest shares of losses in home heating equipment fires, accounting for one-third of the fires, but nearly nine out of 10 deaths and four out of five of the injuries in home fires were caused by heating equipment. Fires originating in a kitchen or cooking area accounted for the largest share of home heating fires (17 percent).

While the larger (nonconfined) fires involved fireplaces or chimneys and fewer than one in 10 fires were caused by heating equipment (7 percent), they caused just over one-fifth of the direct property damage (22 percent). Nearly half of the heating equipment fires (46 percent) occurred in the three-month period from December through February. (Source: NFPA Research Division)

County Fire Department Interim Assistant Chief Joe Barna recommends the following fire safety measures: 

• Before the cold weather arrives, change furnace filters to keep equipment running efficiently and safely.

• Place all space heaters at least three feet away from furniture, walls, curtains or anything that burns. 

• Make sure to turn off space heaters when you leave home or go to bed. 

• Contact the Gas Company or a heating contractor if your heater is not functioning properly.

• Check thermostats to make sure the furnace doesn’t turn itself on prematurely and check for blockage.   

• Have your chimneys inspected and cleaned by a professional before each heating season. 

• Have a spark arrester on chimney top to prevent embers from starting a fire on your roof or a neighbor’s. 

• Screen openings should be no more than a half-inch, a quarter-inch if you live in a wilderness area. 

• If you have a manufactured fireplace, check with manufacturer before placing anything on the mantel. 

• Tree branches must be at least 10 feet away from the roof and side of the house. 

• Store paper, kindling and other flammable material at least three feet from the fireplace.

• Store cooled ashes in a sealed metal container. Boxes, paper bags, and plastic containers can catch fire. 

• Have a fireplace screen large enough to block embers and rolling logs from escaping onto your floor.

• Make sure that any fireplace fires are completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.   

• Never install unvented gas heaters in bedroom or bathroom due to rapid carbon monoxide build-up.

• Never use a fireplace during high winds, especially if you have a wood shake roof.

• Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. They can cause a combustible build-up.

• Never use a charcoal barbecue indoors! It produces deadly carbon monoxide gas which can render you unconscious.

Chief Barna added, “A huge thank you to you and our team that put this together.! It helps us tell our story. It builds trust within our communities by highlighting our commitment to excellence, it humanizes our fire district, it showcases our employees’ invaluable contributions, and it fosters pride within our organization. Job well done!”



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