’Tis the season for fire

Firefighters urge chimney cleaning to reduce risks

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2005

Luckily smoke detectors sounded Saturday evening and awoke a Kenai family to the sight of flames shooting out of their chimney.

The Kenai Fire Department was called, and the chimney fire was extinguished simply, according to Fire Chief Mike Tilly.

Frequently chimney fires are not detected early and heat from the fire spreads to the structure of a home, Tilly said.

Annual cleaning can reduce the threat of chimney fires, he advises.

Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale said this year, a half dozen people have called CES asking to have their chimneys inspected by firefighters.

“People are looking to use their wood stoves and fireplaces as alternate heat sources with fuel costs being so high this year,” Hale said.

“In my 14 years (as a CES firefighter), I’ve never had a request to inspect a chimney before, except when people are changing insurance companies and the insurance companies ask for a fire inspection,” he said.

Hale recommends looking up through the stack, checking the operation of the stove or fireplace damper, checking for missing or loose fire bricks inside the stove or fireplace and inspecting for a buildup of creosote.

“All that I’ve inspected so far (this year) are fairly well maintained,” Hale said.

CES, Kenai and Nikiski fire departments offer the loan of chimney cleaning brushes at no cost. CES has the brushes available at the main firehouse in Soldotna and expects to have them at the Funny River firehouse soon, Hale said.

Homeowners only need to know the diameter of their chimney opening and the length of rods they will need to clean the chimneys themselves.

Professional chimney cleaning companies also operate on the Kenai Peninsula for those uncomfortable with going up on their roofs, according to Tilly.

People who do not want to borrow equipment can purchase it at area hardware stores.

Creosote and soot that build up in stovepipes are the main culprits leading to chimney fires.

Creosote is the name applied to a crystalline substance that builds up on the inside of stovepipes. It is actually a mixture of chemicals including phenol, cresols and quaiacol that appears as a colorless to yellow greasy liquid with a smoky odor. It burns easily.

Hale said some firewoods produce more creosote than others and beetle-kill spruce is a good, hot-burning wood to use in wood stoves and fireplaces.

Less preferred are slow-burning woods such as cottonwood, he said.

Nikiski Fire Chief Fred Swen suggests cleaning chimneys now, before the big rush comes following the first snowfall.

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