This section includes information on preventing chimney fires and what to do if one occurs.
Why they happen
When a fire is lit flammable deposits build up in the chimney and flue. If these are allowed to accumulate the heat from a fire can cause them to ignite, causing a chimney fire.
All chimney fires are extremely dangerous - internal flue temperatures can reach 1,100 degrees Celsius. As a result, massive radiant heat is emitted through the chimney walls and, with the addition of a thatched or wooden roof timbers, a devastating house fire can start quickly. Flames and sparks can leap from the chimney top or through cracks in the flue and ignite the roof or other parts of the house. The bricks of the chimney can become hot enough to combust nearby flammable materials such as wooden beams. Adjoining houses and nearby trees can also be affected.
How to tell if your chimney is on fire
- A loud roaring noise, the result of massive amounts of air bring sucked through the burner or fireplace opening
- Sparks and flames seen shooting from the chimney top, which can be similar to fireworks in appearance
- A glowing or shimmering outlet or connector
- A vibrating appliance, outlet or connector
- Flames visible through any tiny cracks in the outlet or connector
- Smoke or smells noticeable in adjoining rooms or the loft space
- The chimney breast of flue pipe heating up in either the same room or other rooms they pass through.
What to do
Bring everyone in the house to the ground floor and be ready to leave the house. Call the Fire Service by dialling 999. Move furniture and carpets away from the fireplace, if safe to do so. Close down all ventilation to the fireplace and keep doors and windows closed.
What not to do
Do not attempt to put out the fire with buckets of water, and do not pour salt on the fire – this can create chlorine gas, which is damaging to the chimney and toxic when inhaled.
Preventing chimney fires
Regular cleaning of chimneys and flues reduces the risk of dangerous fumes entering the home and eliminates the build up of soot from coal, wood, oil and gas fired systems. It also clears obstructions such as bird and animal nests, leaves and debris.
You should also check the roof space regularly, when a fire is lit, to ensure that smoke is not leaking into the roof space.
Use a fire-guard wherever possible to stop material from the hearth causing a fire within the property.
If you are in a rented property, your landlord has a duty of care towards you as a tenant 'to repair and keep in any working order, any room heater and water heating equipment'
Chimneys should be swept at least once a year, with ventilation for flues and chimneys inspected at the same time. Chimneys should be swept by a competent contractor. Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps – Freephone 0800 833464 or visit www.nacs.org.uk
Multi fuel stoves and wood burners
Wood burner might provide a focal point to a room and an alternative way of heating your home. But they also bring an increased risk of a fire if not looked after properly and chimneys not maintained.
Wood burners still require regular inspection and sweeping to operate safely.