Latest Consumer Product Safety Commission report on chimney fires reinforces need for annual inspection

The front page of the report.
The front page of the report.

The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on residential structure fires shows that 21,200 unwanted blazes were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys or chimney systems in 2012, a 4.5 percent drop from the year before.

The decline in fires illustrates that years of dedicated public-awareness efforts by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, individual chimney sweep companies, and industries such as insurers and firefighters, is making a dent in the fire totals.

The outreach needs to continue.

“CPSC’s statistics reinforce the need for the public to have an annual inspection by a qualified professional, such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep,” said Mark A. Stoner, president of CSIA’s national board of directors. “Often, homeowners don’t learn about the importance of maintenance until it’s too late — when they were enjoying a cozy fire that got out of hand, for example. So the drop in chimney-related fires from 2011 to 2012 is good news, but as an industry we still have a long way to go.”

CPSC’s report, issued April 22, showed that fires involving fireplaces/chimneys/chimney connections resulted in 20 deaths in 2012, with 60 injuries, and an estimated $93.6 million in residential property loss.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based CPSC culled its report on data obtained from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association. CPSC staff has been producing estimates of residential fires and related deaths, injuries, and property losses since the early 1980s. The last update prior to the CPSC report was in August 2013.

The report did not indicate the underlying issue that caused the unwanted fires. In so many situations, the basic problem is a buildup of creosote inside the flue. The report did not cite a specific reason for the drop. In general, all residential structure fires, in addition to fires related to heating equipment, were at the lowest reported level in years.

MORE: View the Consumer Product Safety Commission 2010-12 report on CSIA’s website

Looking at the issue from a 3-year perspective, there was an average of 22,700 chimney fires from 2010-2012, down from an average of 24,300 from 2009-2011.

The NFPA and CSIA each recommend that all chimneys, fireplaces and dryer vents should be inspected at least once a year – and it’s the mission of CSIA to foster public awareness of such issues relating to chimney and venting performance and safety.

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“Many homeowners think their chimney only needs to be inspected and swept if they burn wood in their fireplaces or wood stoves,” says Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education. “But almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system of the house. When you have an inspection, you are lessening your risk. It’s preventative maintenance that helps minimize potential hazards.”

Having established the most-widely recognized national certification programs for the chimney and venting service industry, CSIA strives to eliminate residential chimney fires, carbon monoxide intrusion and other chimney- and venting-related hazards that result in the loss of lives and property.

CSIA’s 1,550 chimney sweeps can be found using CSIA’s free zip-code locator at csia.org/search. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps can also detect evidence of freeze-thaw damage from the winter or damage caused by Spring rains, and ensure that the exterior of the chimney is functioning properly for optimal efficiency.

If you don’t employ a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, there’s no guarantee that they know the three levels of inspection or have knowledge of proper chimney construction or installation details. You don’t want a handyman unfamiliar with this information doing this type of work.

– Tom Spalding


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