Regular cleanings and checks can prevent chimney fires; Type of wood burned affects need for sweep


A half-dozen chimney fires Saturday and Sunday in Carroll and Frederick counties might have been prevented with more regular cleaning, fire officials said.

Chimney fires often occur when wood is burned in a wood stove or fireplace where a deposit of soot or creosote, a wood preservative, has built up inside the chimney or chimney liner, said Chief Dale Lowman of Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company.

"That deposit buildup catches fire, and, if there is a crack in the liner or chimney, or it burns hot enough, it can spread through the interior house walls and produce a full-blown house fire," said Lowman, whose company responded Sunday to one of six chimney fires reported within an 18-hour period.

The others were in Reese, Taneytown and Sykesville. Two occurred in Frederick County.

Thorough cleaning and checking for cracks by a professional chimney sweep are the easiest ways to avoid problems, Lowman said.

Most homeowners have their wood stoves and fireplaces cleaned once a year, after the burning season, Lowman said.

The type of wood, how seasoned it is, and the configuration of the chimney are important factors in deciding if a chimney should be cleaned more often, he said.

Seasoned wood burns hot, he said. The hotter the fire, the less the buildup.

The more green and sappy the wood, the greater the buildup, he said.

"Wood stoves with bends or elbows in the metal liner afford spaces where deposits are more likely to build up," Lowman said.

If the wood is not well-seasoned, if it's sappy or green, a chimney perhaps should be cleaned and examined in the middle of the burning season, he said.

A buildup creates a smaller opening for heat and smoke to escape, Lowman said.

"If the opening becomes too small, smoke can back up into the house even if flames do not ignite inside the chimney," he said.

Lowman said burning pine smells nice, but pine is one of the worst woods to burn because it contains large amounts of sap.

The cost of cleaning a chimney can run from $50 to $80 to as much as $125 to $150, said a spokeswoman for Earl's Village Chimney Sweep in Manchester.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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