You might think that of all places that know the value of a well-maintained chimney, the United Kingdom would top the list. After all, it was in 16th century England that the trend of fireplaces and chimneys really caught on.
Yet, despite that head start, chimney fires remain as much an issue overseas as they are in the United States (which averaged an eye-popping 22,700 fires from 2010 to 2012) and first-responders are doing something about it!
This week [Sept. 7-13] is “Chimney Fire Safety Week” in the UK and you’ll find fire departments from Cheshire to Wiltshire writing about the need for inspections prior to the 2015-16 winter burning season.
Richard Priest, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, tells residents in his jurisdiction to “make sure your chimney is ready for the winter months ahead, by a professional, qualified chimney sweep. With the colder part of the year looming, people will begin to start using open fires again. All chimneys and flueways should be cleaned and checked to ensure they’re free from debris and in full working order before the heating season.”
Priest continues: “A blocked or defective chimney can cause carbon monoxide poisoning as well as a fire. Make sure your chimney is swept regularly, depending upon what fuel you burn, and that you have working smoke alarms in your home, and test them once a week.”
Does this sound familar? It’s a drum that the Chimney Safety Institute of America beats quite frequently. CSIA in the United States frequently works with firefighters so they understand how to combat chimney fires. We also then educate the public. [We even publish a free public safety bulletin, and it’s on our website for anyone to download.]
VIDEO: CSIA teamed with Indianapolis-area fire department on outreach in 2014
“England is like us in many ways regarding the need for annual inspections,” says John Pilger, a past president of the CSIA who serves on CSIA’s board of directors and is the International Relations Committee Chairman for CSIA and the National Chimney Sweep Guild. Pilger, of Smithtown, New York, is also a former fire chief. “It’s great to have the firefighters internationally talking about fires, because everybody listens to firefighters, the experts in fire prevention and response.”
And what we learn from this is that chimney flue fires don’t discriminate –whether in London, England or London, Kentucky.
We’re seeing many social media posts about England’s Chimney Fire Safety Week.
Cheshire Fire & Rescue includes tips on its website that are applicable in the United States and, in many ways, mirror the public safety message of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. It states that the “most common causes of chimney fires” are:
- Improper appliance sizing
- Burning unseasoned wet wood
- Infrequent sweeping and cleaning
- Overnight burning or smoldering wood for long periods in wood stoves
Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service offers some tips as well:
- Don’t use flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin to light your fire.
- Don’t burn excessive amounts of paper or rubbish.
- Don’t overload the fire with fuel.
- When the fire is alight, check the loft space occasionally to make sure there is no smoke leaking from cracks, defective brickwork or mortar joints.
There are some great tips from Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes:
Top tips for safer chimneys
- Always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers.
- Make sure embers are properly put out before you go to bed.
- Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained.
- If you have recently opened up or about to start to use a fireplace, make sure it is inspected by a qualified person.
- When burning wood, use dry, seasoned woods only. Never burn cardboard boxes or waste paper.
- Inspect your chimney breast, particularly in the roof space. Make sure that it is sound and that the sparks or fumes cannot escape through cracks or broken bricks.
- Ensure wood burners are installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Make sure the appliance receives enough air to allow the fuel to burn properly. Consider having a carbon monoxide detector fitted.
To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to perform your annual inspection, check out the zip-code locator on CSIA’s website.
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