Keep the home fires burning – safely

The warming feeling of sitting in front of a lit fireplace at home is one of the great joys of winter and there has been a rise in the use of chimneys, woodburners and other fuel burners in the last 10 years. 

But over winter it’s not just Santa that can get stuck in your chimney and the danger can be that blockages can cause fires if your chimney or flue isn’t properly maintained. 

Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service were called out to over 200 chimney fires last year and we asked them to pass on all their knowledge on how you can keep your chimney clean and safe so you don’t need to call 999 this winter.

Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service were called out to 204 chimney fires between April 2011 and March this year. Credit: Travis Wiens

Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service are available 24/7 for any emergencies, but there are ways to try and prevent emergencies before they happen, and we want you to have a great, safe winter, hopefully without having to ring 999.

Between April 2011 and March this year we were called out to 204 chimney fires, and 144 of those were between October and February. On a cold day it’s lovely to warm yourself by a fire, but a chimney fire can be absolutely devastating to your home so we want to make sure you can enjoy them as safely as possible. 

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of a chimney fire:

  • Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained – this includes getting your chimney swept by a professional sweep (more on this below).
  • Make sure you always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers.
  • Ensure the fire is extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house – including smouldering embers.
  • Make sure good quality fuel is used.
  • Don’t interrupt the air supply by blocking air vents or air bricks. 
  • If you store stuff in your loft, keep anything that is flammable away from the chimney breast.

Tell tale signs that might mean your chimney is on fire include a roaring noise coming from the fireplace, smoke or the smell of smoke in adjoining rooms to the chimney or an unusual glowing or vibrating around your chimney or woodburner. Very often you can also check by going outside to see if sparks and flames are shooting out from your chimney top. But all chimney fires are different so if you’re in any doubt, call 999.

All chimneys and flues should be swept at least once a year but if you regularly use coal then you should look to have it swept twice a year. If you’re burning wood then we recommend getting your chimney swept up to four times a year, depending on how much you use it. 

Chimney sweeps remove deposits that build up when burning occurs and move any obstructions, such as nests and cobwebs. They should also be able to advise you on how to use your fire safely.

Chimney sweeps can remove obstructions that could result in chimney fires, such as nests and cobwebs .

Another good reason to get your chimney swept regularly is to reduce the risk of getting carbon monoxide poisoning from your fire.

Carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless, and fuel burning heating and cooking appliances can cause poisoning if they’re poorly installed, incorrectly used or if they are not properly and regularly maintained. To be as safe as possible, as well as getting your chimney swept, you should make sure you’re using the right fuel for your fire, not overload the fire and install a carbon monoxide detector – they’re widely available and not too expensive.

If you do have a chimney fire, no matter how serious, your chimney must be inspected as soon as possible and not used until it has been inspected.

If it is damaged and there is another chimney fire then it is quite likely the fire will spread to other parts of the building. A certified sweep should carry out the inspection to see if any damage has been caused  and to see if anything needs to be done to make the chimney safe to use again.

If you still have chimney fire related questions, or any other queries for that matter, you can get in contact with us via Facebook, Twitter and through the contact form on our website.

Not sure how to find your local chimney sweep? Visit www.hetas.co.uk/find-chimney-sweep, type in your postcode and choose from a whole range of local sweeps to keep your chimney clean and safe, or go to www.nacs.org.uk/sweep-search.

And Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service have safety advice for a whole range of other hazards on their website to help you keep out of harm’s way this winter.

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