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Chimney, wall fires can be disastrous

Bud Brinkerhoff
Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade

Several months ago, we mentioned the concern about chimney fires and ways to identify and prevent them.  The typical chimney fire is created when the creosote buildup in the stack ignites and flames shoot out from the stack.

 We have been fortunate that we've yet to experience such a chimney fire this winter in the Placitas area. However, we have seen several fires that originated in fireplace stacks and were able to move through the walls or ceiling into the house structure itself. Normally, this can only happen if the contractor who built your home didn't allow sufficient clearance between the chimney stack and combustible materials such as wall studs and ceiling joists.

As a home owner or occupant, there is little you can do to identify such deficiencies in your home construction. However, early detection has saved the homes we've responded to this year. If you smell or observe smoke coming our from outside eves of your house or recessed ceiling light fixtures, a call to 911 can allow the fire department to isolate and extinguish a smoldering wall fire before it has the chance to fully ignite or do serious structure damage. These ‘wall fires' can smolder and spread for hours, even days, after you've had a fire in the fireplace.

On another note, every year we experience fire calls when someone has placed the ashes from a stove or fireplace in a combustible container. People are often surprised at how long embers can remain active after a fire has been 'out.' Never place ashes in paper sacks or cardboard boxes and never place them in dumpsters or trash cans until absolutely positive that the ash embers have been extinguished. One fire we responded to was created when sparks from an ash bucket were blown by the wind into an adjacent woodpile. Err on the side of caution and place ashes in a covered noncombustible container for several days before disposing of them.




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