Alamosa firemen Luke Walker, Craig Rogers and Devin Haynie tackle the roof where a chimney fire broke out on Wednesday night.
Courier photos by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — On Wednesday night, the Alamosa Fire Department successfully extinguished a chimney fire at 1203 Bell Avenue shortly after 8 p.m.
Alamosa Fire Chief Don Chapman said in an interview on Thursday afternoon cracks in the residence’s chimney are what caused the flames to spread, injuring no one, but causing smoke and subsequent water damage to the home.
“The faulty chimney is what caused the roof to catch on fire,” Chapman said. “The fire broke through the ceiling into the room with the fireplace.”
In order to save the home, the firefighters busted through the roof using chainsaws and axes, he said. Once they were able to access the inside of the orange-glowing chimney, the firefighters doused the flames with water.
A team of firefighters was also inside the home to prevent the fire from growing, he added.
Since it is the time of year many people turn to fireplaces and woodstoves for heat, Chapman stressed the importance of having all heating units inspected.
“Have your chimneys inspected and, if they are not metal lined, be sure to check for cracks,” Chapman said. “Have them inspected regularly.”
More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes, and many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes that also contribute to less efficient heat transfers.
Removing creosote, a gummy, foul smelling, corrosive and extremely combustible substance, is part of a good chimney sweep. The substance, formed when volatile gases given off in the wood burning process combine and condense when exiting the chimney, can coat everything it passes over, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
The institute also recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at one-eighth of an inch of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. The small amount of soot is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.
Chimney sweeps can apply professional-grade chemicals, usually in the form of a powder, to help change the nature of the glazed creosote to a form that a brush can remove, according to the CSIA. The chemical products require some heat equivalent to what is found in a small fire in the fireplace.
According to the CSIA, the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 is the correct method to follow when considering having a chimney swept.
“Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits and correct clearances,” states the standard. “Cleaning, maintenance and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
The standard takes into account that animals might build nests in a chimney’s flue or there might be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use, according to the CSIA.
What You Need To Know When Burning Wood
To aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion and to help keep heating appliances and fireplaces functioning properly, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers the following safety tips:
1. Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.
2. Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.
3. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.
4. Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months - one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove. Aspen burns very hot and can help keep a fireplace clean.
5. Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.
6. Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36 inches away from the hearth.
7. Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.
8. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.
9. Never leave a fire unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.
10. The CSIA recommends annual inspections performed by CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps. These chimney sweeps have earned the industry’s most respected credential by passing an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimney and venting systems. The National Fire Protection Association also recommends that all chimneys are inspected on an annual basis.