Log burners and open fires are a great way to keep warm as well as create a welcoming, cosy atmosphere, but there are risks that come with fires too.
In winter*, we attend more than 10 chimney fires a week. Plus, they’re the leading cause of thatch fires.
What causes chimney fires?
Chimney fires are often caused by tar inside them, which is extremely flammable.
There are many simple ways you can avoid this and burn a fire safely in your home. Here’s how you can reduce the risk of a chimney fire from happening to you.
Keep that chimney clean
Keep your chimney clean, and most importantly, have it swept before your first fire. Get it swept regularly to keep you, and your property safe. It’s a cost that’s really worth spending. You may be wondering how often ‘regularly’ actually is, so here are a few pointers to give you a general idea.
- Wood – every three months.
- Smokeless fuels – at least once a year.
- Bituminous coal – at least twice a year.
- Oil – once a year.
- Gas – once a year.
Whatever you do, don’t try to clean your chimney yourself. Use a professional, accredited chimney sweep. They can inspect your chimney properly and give you a certificate when done.
As well as getting your chimney swept, you should also check the structure is all safe, well-maintained and up to the challenge of coping with modern heating appliances. We suggest lining your chimney if it isn’t already, which should be done by a qualified and certified chimney engineer.
Use seasoned wood
If you’re using wood to start your fire, don't just use any old log you’ve found. It’s really important that the wood you burn is well-seasoned. This means that it should have been left to dry for a long time, so that all the moisture has evaporated away.
Burning wet wood could be seriously dangerous. The water vapour can combine with gases and particles, which creates condensation, which then creates a substance called creosote. Creosote hardens to form tar. Tar is really flammable, and before you know it a damp bit of wood has led to a severe chimney fire.
Lighting your fire
Once you’ve got your well-seasoned wood in place, it’s time to light it. It’s best to light your fire with kindling (small twigs or sticks), but you can also use firelighters if you’re careful. Remember to store them away from the fire and any children or animals, in a safe box placed in a cool, dry place.
Never light your fire using liquids like petrol or paraffin. This is very dangerous, as it can ignite in a really explosive way.
Once it’s burning
Keep an eye on it. Never put any paper or rubbish on your fire once it’s burning. That can create floating embers which could start a chimney fire, or even drift and land on things in your home, starting a house fire too.
If you have a thatched roof, you need to be even more careful of embers. Just one spark is all it takes to ignite a thatched roof - read our advice for owners of thatched properties.
Keep the fire contained to where you want it by using a fireguard or spark guard. That will help to stop your carpet or furniture catching alight.
Time to put it out
Perhaps you have to leave the house, or it’s time for bed. Before you think of doing that, put out your fire. Make sure it’s out completely – you don’t want to return home or wake up to any nasty surprises.
So, those are our top tips on how to prevent a chimney fire from happening to you. Follow them, and you should be safe and sound!
Look after yourselves, stay safe, and have a happy, cosy autumn.
*22 coldest weeks of the year.