Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chimney Fire!

Cherry Red stove pipe
It has been roughly 5 months since we began consistently burning wood for the season.  Generally speaking, we burn hot fires almost constantly, except when we shut the stove down for the night.  Because of that, we rarely have a problem with creosote building up in our stove pipe.  Occasionally, when we have a really hot fire, we hear the tell-tale sound of a freight train coming from our cookstove and immediately shut all of the dampers, tap the stove pipe (freeing loose creosote) and give the fire a chance to settle down.  Taking care of the problem quickly has always kept us from having a chimney fire emergency.

Chimney fires are a real danger.  We have known a number of people who have lost or nearly lost their homes to chimney fires.  Because of the threat of fire, we have taught our children what to do in the event of a chimney fire.  It is a little trick that Sir Knight learned years ago, when he worked at a fire station in Issaquah, Washington, but it has proven to be incredibly effective.

When our chimney is on fire and the dampers have done little to starve the fire of oxygen, we quickly submerge a large pile of newspapers (we keep them on hand in the kitchen to use as firestarter) in a sink full of water.  Once the paper is thoroughly soaked, we open the stove, dump the papers in the firebox, closing the lid and all of the stove dampers.  As the paper hits the burning coals, a large amount of steam rises from the wet papers.  The steam puts out the fire in the stovepipe almost immediately.

A wad of wet newspaper in the firebox
Just last night we put this fire suppression method into practice.  We have been burning with the stove shut down due to unusually warm weather.  Last evening, the wind whipped up and the fire began to draw, catching the built up creosote in the stovepipe on fire.  Soon, the stovepipe was cherry red and the stove was roaring.  Closing the dampers had little effect (the wind was driving the fire) so we immediately soaked newspapers.  Within seconds of dumping the soggy papers in the stove, the chimney fire was squelched.

Fire is a very real risk when you heat with wood.  By having a pile of newspaper in your kitchen, you will always be prepared to take care of a chimney fire quickly and effectively.  Tell your neighbors and teach your children.  Don't let a chimney fire ruin your night.

***NOTE:  Remember, there are times when wet newspaper won't be enough to put out your fire.  Don't hesitate to call the fire department!  They are there if you need them!


  1. Thanks for sharing. I dumped several buckets of snow down the chimney once when we had a chimney fire. I will definitely give this a try if the need should arise again.

  2. Thanks for the information, I didn't know this trick. I'm glad the soaked newspapers worked for you. Take care with the fires and thank you for sharing useful info. that we could all need at some time.

  3. i like your emergency action for putting out a chimney you "sweep" your chimney very often? when we burn wood in the fireplace we give the chimney a good sweep before the first fire and then again when weather permits which is generally every two to three months. there are also products on the market (at the hardware stores mostly) that you can add to your fire that help get rid of the creosote buildup.

  4. If the chimney is in a stone or brick fireplace - they can get very mean, very fast. As a first responder - I can tell you that your garden hose is the fastest, safest way to put out a larger chimney fire. Just like the newspapers soaked in water, just water on burning wood or coals produces a big cloud of steam. No oxygen for the fire, and it goes out immediately.

  5. Do you mind me asking how long ago Sir Knight was at the fire department in Issaquah? My Pop (aka grandpa) was the assistant fire chief there for 30+ years.

  6. Hmm, all approved chimney pipe now was, I thought, triple wall and not subject to fire, so I thought you meant the stovepipe before it gets to the chimney?

  7. Makes me miss my woodstove. Chimeny fire risk and all. I'm so glad everything turned out all right.


  8. Kinda reminds me of a video I saw about how to put out a grease fire on top of your stove. They took a wet towel and laid it over the grease fire and it smothered it. Normally, you do not get water any where near grease. Here is a link to it on you tube:

    I'm thinking a lid might be a better choice.

  9. A method I learned through necessity, when we had a chimney fire in a fireplace with loose fitting glass doors, was to quickly soak a blanket in the tub. Hold the blanket tightly to the front of the fireplace, choking off the air flow.

    After holding it there about 1 minute, I thought the fire was completely out. It fooled me, and started up again. It took about 2 minutes for the creosote to cool enough not to re-ignite.

    I'm told molten balls of creosote were flying out the chimney like shot from a roman candle. Scary stuff!

  10. My husband, a recently retired firefighter, said to just a large cup of water will do the same thing. No need to take time to soak the newspapers.

  11. How often do you clean the pipe? My husband hates to climb up there in the winter, but he has to every year. My parents have a stove with a really long pipe to the top of their roof (almost 3 stories tall) and they clean it monthly, even if its icy out. Thanks for the wet newspaper idea, we know that freight train sound very well!