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Stop a chimney fire from happening to you

A few chimneys in a row, with smoke coming out of the one in the middle. Only the roofs of the houses can be seen, as well as some of the brick wall of the first in the row, and a grey sky. There are a few trees in the background with no leaves, so it's clearly autumn.

It’s fast approaching that time of year again (where did the summer go?) when your thoughts are turning to cosying up in front of a fire. Log burners and open fires are a great way to keep warm as well as create a welcoming, autumnal atmosphere, but there are risks that come with fires too. 

In winter*, we attend more than 10 chimney fires a week. Plus, they’re the leading cause of thatch fires. 

What causes chimney fires? 

Chimney fires are often caused by dirty chimneys that become filled with tar, which is extremely flammable.

There are many simple ways you can avoid this and burn a fire safely in your home. Here’s how you can reduce the risk of a chimney fire from happening to you.

Keep that chimney clean

It’s very important that you keep your chimney clean, and most importantly, have it swept before your first fire. Get it swept regularly to keep you, your fellow housemates and your property safe. It’s a cost that’s really worth spending. You may be wondering how often ‘regularly’ actually is, so we’ve got a few pointers to give you a general idea.

  • Wood – every three months.
  • Smokeless fuels – at least once a year.
  • Bituminous coal – at least once a year.
  • Oil – once a year.
  • Gas – once a year.

Whatever you do, don’t try and clean your chimney yourself…put that hoover down! A professional, accredited chimney sweep is the only person that should be getting up inside there. They can inspect your chimney properly and give you a nice certificate when done. 

Now as well as getting your chimney swept, you should also check the structure is all safe, well-maintained and up to the challenge of coping with modern heating appliances. We suggest lining your chimney if it isn’t already, which should be done by a qualified and certified chimney engineer, of course. 

It starts with what you’re burning

If you’re using wood to start your fire, it can’t just be any old log you’ve found out and about on a walk. It’s really important that the wood you burn is well-seasoned. This means that it should have been left to dry for a long time, so that all the moisture has evaporated away. 

It’s about to get a bit technical, but the basic takeaway is that burning wet wood could be seriously dangerous. The water vapour might combine with other gases and particles, which can create condensation (unless the chimney is kept warm), which then creates a substance called creosote. Creosote hardens to form tar, which as mentioned is really flammable, and before you know it a damp bit of wood has led to a severe chimney fire. Not cool or cosy.

Lighting your fire

So you’ve got your well-seasoned wood in place, and it’s time to get it lit. It’s best to light your fire with kindling (small twigs or sticks), but you can also use firelighters, if you’re careful (and store them away from the fire and any children or animals, in a safe box placed in a cool, dry place). 

Never light your fire using liquids like petrol or paraffin. This can be very dangerous, as it can ignite in a really explosive way.

Once it’s burning

The fire is well and truly underway, hoorah! We hope you’re keeping an eye on it. Be sure to never put any paper or rubbish on your fire once it’s burning. This can create floating embers which could start a chimney fire, or even drift and land on things in your home, starting a house fire too. If you have a thatched roof, you’ll want to be even more careful of embers. Just one spark is all it takes to ignite a thatch roof - read our advice for owners of thatched properties

Keep the fire contained to where you want it to be by using a fireguard or spark guard. It’s not so relaxing when your carpet or furniture catches alight.

Time to put it out

Perhaps you have to leave the house, or it’s time to hit the hay and get some sleep. Before you think of doing any of that, put out your fire. Make sure it’s out completely – you don’t want to return home or wake up to any nasty surprises.

So there you have it. Our top tips on how to prevent a chimney fire from happening to you. Follow these, and you should be safe and sound! 

Look after yourselves, stay safe, and have a happy, cosy autumn. 

*22 coldest weeks of the year.