Now that it’s time to start heating the house, fire officials are warning residents to beware of the potential fire hazards that lurk – especially deep within the recesses of their chimneys and furnaces.
Without taking certain precautions, some homes may help make up the 36 percent of residences that catch fire in rural areas each year from faulty or dirty heating systems and chimneys.
It’s a good time to check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re placed in or near bedrooms, fire officials say.
Jim Ward, fire prevention coordinator with the Sycamore Fire Department, advises people to have their home heating systems inspected around this time of year to help prevent fires caused by furnaces and fireplaces.
“A lot of times [fires are] from furnaces that are not maintained properly, belts going bad or wood-burning stoves,” he said.
Chimney fires are the most common fire Ward said he encounters this time of year. He said it’s sometimes easy to forget to check whether chimneys are clean because people can’t really see that flammable creosote has built up in the chimney flue.
Gary Pozzi, owner of Hinckley-based Pozzi Chimney Sweep, said fireplaces should be cleaned and inspected annually to make sure there are no cracks, loose bricks or debris clogging the airway.
Aside from bird nests, he often discovers the carcasses of birds that fall into the chimney, causing it to clog and create a carbon monoxide hazard. Birds often perch on chimney pipes because they like the warm air, but they can be overwhelmed by carbon monoxide and fall into the chimney.
That’s why it’s important to have a chimney cap, he said.
Ward said the chimney flue should always be open when the fireplace is in use. He said to only burn wood or creosote-reducing logs, and avoid burning things such as wrapping paper or cardboard boxes. Burning items that aren’t meant for a home fireplace are much more likely to clog a chimney or stick to chimney walls.
When Pozzi does fire inspections, he said one of the most common fire hazards he sees are combustibles that are stored too close to furnaces, water heaters and fireplaces. Combustibles should be kept 3 feet from water heaters, furnaces and fireplace openings. That includes stockings at Christmastime.
Pozzi also warns that blocked airways in dryer vents and chimneys can cause carbon monoxide hazards.
People should also be careful when warming up their cars. Pozzi said drivers should always pull the car out of the garage before letting it run.
Ward said homes should never be heated using a gas range or oven, and charcoal should never be burned inside a home or garage.
Pozzi said it’s important for people with gas stove ranges to make sure the flames are blue when they light their stove. If they’re not, that means it’s time for a professional to clean the pilot light or stove range.
“If it’s a yellow flame, that means it’s giving off a lot of carbon monoxide,” he said.
Tips for maintaining a furnace:
• Have your furnace or boiler serviced annually.
• Leave furnace or boiler repairs to qualified specialists.
• Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in working condition.
• On the furnace or boiler, check the flue and pipe seams. Make sure they are supported and free of holes and cracks. If the flue is installed into a masonry chimney, make sure there are not any cracks or loose bricks.
• Keep trash and other combustibles away from the furnace or boiler.
• Change your furnace filter regularly per the manufacturer’s specifications.
Tips for using a fireplace or wood stove safely:
• Always open the chimney flue when you use your fireplace.
• Make sure the chimney isn’t clogged with debris prior to use.
• Hire a professional to clean and inspect your chimney or wood stove once a year.
• Have a sturdy screen in front of the fireplace.
• Keep all flammables at least 3 feet away from the chimney or wood stove.
• Don’t burn excessive amounts of paper in your fireplace.
• Never discard hot ashes inside or near the home. Place ashes in a metal container well away from the house.
Source: Sycamore Fire Department