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Tips for avoiding fireplace and chimney fires from the State Fire Marshal’s Office

Chimney cleaning advisory posted outside WCFD14 Station #2 (October 27, 2022). Photo courtesy of WCFD14.

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office recently published the following advisory regarding fireplace and chimney safety.

Scene of a residential fire that appeared to have originated around the fireplace and chimney (October 24, 2022). Photo via GoFundMe.
Scene of a residential fire that appeared to have originated around the fireplace and chimney (October 24, 2022). Photo via GoFundMe.

As the days are getting shorter and nights longer, the State Fire Marshal’s Office wants to remind everyone about fireplace and chimney safety. Before starting up your fireplace for the upcoming cooler nights, make sure that your chimney is ready for use.

Chimney fires can result in the loss of your home and result in injuries and deaths if they have not been properly maintained. Almost half of all heating-related fires occur in the months of December, January, and February. In the United States there were over 22,000 fires on average reported to be related to home heating. The leading factor contributing to chimney fires is the failure to clean, mainly the creosote that builds up in the chimney. Creosote is the by-products of combustion left in your chimney walls and is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities, and the internal flue temperature of your chimney is high enough, the result could end up being a chimney fire.

Take some time now to prepare for the cooler weather ahead with a few tips to keep your fireplace running efficiently and safely:

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  • Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every other year by a qualified professional depending on the frequency of use.
  • Use only newspaper and kindling wood or fire starters to start a fire. Never use flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid, kerosene, gel or ethanol fuel, or gasoline.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. This is cleaner for the environment and creates less creosote buildup in the chimney.
  • Keep flammable items, such as stacked wood, blankets, or other decorations, at least three feet away from the fireplace. This includes children and pets and anything hanging down from a hearth above. 
  • Use a metal or glass screen in front of a fireplace to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out during use.
  • Put the fire out before you go to sleep or leave your home.
  • Put all burned ashes in a metal container with a lid, outside, at least three feet from your home.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 150 people die on average per year from carbon monoxide poisoning related to the use of fireplaces when the chimney flue isn’t working correctly due to the malfunctions caused by the lack of maintenance. 

Washington State Department of Health reported that in the years 2016-2020, there were 44 deaths attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning. If the chimney flue isn’t operational, crack a window open for a fresh supply of air. Also, make sure to install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms inside your home to alert you in case of carbon monoxide accumulation.

There is nothing like sitting by a cozy fire in your home on a cold night, so it is important to ensure you maintain your fireplace and chimney and practice fire safety when using them.

For more information, contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office at (360) 596-3929.


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