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Be smart, don’t let fires start

As the seasons change and it becomes colder outside, wood burning stoves can provide an economical way of heating your home.

However, when they are not properly maintained, they can be a source of danger and possible disaster resulting in a chimney fire. The more you use your wood stove the better your chance of having a chimney fire.

More than smoke goes up the chimney.

When wood is burned it gives off creosote. Creosote coats chimney flues, creating a serious fire hazard. Creosote buildup is the result of incomplete combustion which is the leading cause of chimney fires. Burning green wood produces high quantities of creosote, as do poorly designed wood burning stoves. The same problem with green wood applies to fireplace chimneys.

The products of incomplete combustion collect in the stove pipe or chimney flue. If allowed to build up they will eventually ignite. Creosote ignites at 451 degrees F (about the same burning point as paper) and can quickly become a raging 2,100-degree inferno.

Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential fires in rural areas every year. The following fire safety tips can help you maintain a fire safe home this winter.

Be sure the wood stove or fireplace is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36 inches) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.

Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be laboratory tested.

Have your chimney inspected at least once a year and cleaned and repaired as often as necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.

Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.

Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers and sparks from jumping out.

The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

Never use a wood burning stove or fireplace to burn paper or trash; burning fragments can be carried up the chimney where they can ignite creosote or land on your roof.

Don’t use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.

Keep flammable materials, decorations and debris away from your fireplace mantle, hearth and wood stove. A spark could easily ignite these materials.

Before you go to bed be sure your fireplace fire is out.

Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the home.

Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing of them. Put them in a metal bucket and move them away from your home or any other combustible material. Do not leave hot ashes on your deck.

Ask your fire department or stove and fireplace accessory store about special chimney fire extinguishers and keep one handy for every fireplace or stove. A standard ABC extinguisher should also be on hand. Keep in mind if you have any doubt on whether or not to fight a fire — don’t! Get out and call the fire department.

Finally:

• Be sure every level of your home has a working smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, and be sure to check and clean them on a monthly basis.

• Plan and practice a home escape plan with your family.

• Contact your local fire department for advice if you have a question on home fire safety.

Big fires start small. Be smart, don’t let fires start.

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