Residents living in Inyo, Mono, and San Bernardino counties interested in a fire prevention program email

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is Your Fireplace SAFE!!

It has been there since the house was built. It is a part of our home life, providing comfort and warmth. It is our fireplace. But, is it safe? Over the years of burning in the fireplace, creosote can build up and cause a fire. According to the United States Fire Administration “Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.”

Twenty years ago in November of 1991, a magnificent home originally built by Hollywood agent Myron Selznick, brother of famed director David O. Selznick burned to the ground. Located in Running Springs, the 18 bedroom 14 bathroom mansion which overlooked the San Bernardino valley was destroyed when a fireplace fire vented into the flooring and ignited the blaze. Fire investigators determined that over the years the mortar used to build the fireplace had deteriorated and allowed the intense heat into the ceiling area. This heat buildup eventually ignited the wood. Why talk about this? Because it is not only creosote that can cause a fire. In California, the land moves from time to time. These small shakes while not destructive on the outside can be doing damage on the inside.

The point is to make sure that your fire place and chimney are safe and clean. CAL FIRE and the United States Fire Safety Administration offer these fireplace safety suggestions;

  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.

On this last suggestion regarding the ashes from the fire place, the importance of this was manifested on Christmas Day in a fire in Stamford, Connecticut where five people died. Fire officials there say that the fire was caused by embers from the ashes of the fireplace that had been cleaned out. Fire officials were not certain if the ashes had been placed in a mud room attached to the house or a trash enclosure next to the home.

CAL FIRE Unit Chief Tim McClelland says “while many people enjoy the warmth of a fireplace fire, it is important to remember that fire is always a danger and people need to be fire safe, first and always.” For more fireplace and chimney safety information go to

CAL FIRE and your local fire department want to wish you a SAFE and HAPPY NEW YEAR!