The only sure way to prevent chimney fires is regular chimney maintenance by a professional chimney sweep.
Two of the natural bi-products of wood smoke are creosote and soot. Both are extremely flammable, and mixed together, they are even more flammable. When smoke goes up your chimney, be it a masonry flue or metal class “A” chimney, creosote and soot collect on the flue walls.
Typically, the cooler the smoke (which is also known as flue gasses) is, the more creosote and soot will build up. If you have enough buildup of these two substances it can lead to a chimney fire.
Chimney fires are very scary and very hard on chimneys. Some chimney fires have been recorded to reach over 3,000° F. This extreme heat can cause clay flue liners to crack, mortar to melt, and metal to buckle and warp. It can set the roof on fire and can cause enough heat to penetrate to combustibles to cause house fires.
A truly professional chimney sweep won’t just clean your chimney. They are also trained to look for any problems with the entire smoke venting system that may be a potential fire hazard. They would advise you of the condition and offer repair remedies to correct the problem.
A professional sweep will have all the tools and equipment to clean the chimney top to bottom, even severely 3rd degree, baked-on creosote which is the most flammable.
If you have a wood stove insert pushed into your fireplace, it will need to be pulled out in order to do a complete and thorough job of cleaning the chimney.
Conditions vary but a rule of thumb is to have the chimney cleaned every two to three cords of wood used.
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