How to keep your home safe from chimney fires

Lawton_Following Sunday's house fire - that began in the family's chimney - people have been asking us how they can prevent chimney fires from spreading into their homes.  Officials say the fire on the 5800 block of Eisenhower was caused by a controlled fire in a fireplace that passed through holes in the top of the chimney.  Though the chimney is about 40 years old, the homeowners say they recently had it inspected - and they were told there wasn't a problem.  But, if that was the case, how did the fire break out?

Lawton Fire Marshal Tim Taylor says you need regular chimney sweeps and inspections.  And, in the case of Sunday's fire, even though the family caught it quickly, the fire still caused more than $35,000 in damage.  Monday, the homeowner took 7News through the house and we saw the devastation of the chimney first hand.

"When we first moved in we had it inspected, and when it first started getting cold we started building the fire," says homeowner Russell Anderson.  "The newspaper had it that we just lit the fire and it happened, but we had it going since the morning... it was just my son started smelling something and I was like - I do smell something."  The family had also just had their roof replaced - had it not been for that, the old shake shingle roof would have caused their home to go up like a tinderbox.

The fire started right behind a hole in the chimney.  Fire officials say plywood behind the fireplace itself smoldered until it lit on fire.  Anderson was able to get his family out of the house and grabbed two fire extinguishers.  He ran upstairs to put the fire out in his daughter's room - which is when he realized it had consumed the entire attic.  "It actually climbed up, inside of here, and pretty much contained it here. And then it climbed up, and into the rafters and it runs the entire length," said Anderson.

The family had just had the chimney swept and inspected, but the Fire Marshal says the few fires that the Andersons have already had lit in the fireplace this season caused the wood behind the fireplace to smolder more quickly.  "A lot of people don't realize right on the other side of that chimney are 2x4s," said Taylor.  "And over time, normally a chimney fire, or a firebox fire in the fireplace, is not something that is an immediate cause and effect."

Taylor says you can hold a match up to a regular 2x4 and it won't light on fire, but, if it dries out over the years, it becomes actual firewood.  "As the heat escapes in the rated enclosure over time, it dries out that wood and causes an ignition," says Taylor.

Taylor says you need to have your chimneys swept and inspected now, because whenever we get the first cold snap, that's usually the first time people are trying out their fireplaces and turning on their heaters.  He says the fire department usually sees a rash of fires in that time period.  So, prevent it by checking everything now.

Here are some tips from Fire Marshal Taylor to avoid unintended fires in your home this winter:

  • Don't burn anything in the fireplace that is not rated for firewood
  • Don't burn your Christmas wrappers
  • Burn properly in your fireplace
  • Clean your fireplace regularly
  • Provide a good screen for your fireplace on the inside of the house
  • Have a chimney cap on the top of your fireplace - it prevents hot sparks from flying out and landing on your roof

The Fire Marshall says anyone who is licensed to install fireplaces is also authorized to inspect them.  And, he says, there are several chimney sweep services in town that can provide services, but book early - this is their busiest time of year.