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As the county prepares for a cold winter season, many homes are starting up their wood stoves for warmth. Fire can keep us warm, but it can also be very dangerous.
John Spicer experienced the danger of wood stoves firsthand when the chimney at his mother’s home caught fire. He said something must have ignited inside the chimney. He didn’t see any flames but saw lots of smoke pouring out of the chimney.
“Hearing the fire in the chimney was like being at the bottom of a collapsing coal mine,” he said.
He called the fire department to have them make sure there was not any cracks in the chimney and to make sure the fire didn’t spread to the rest of the house.
Spicer knew how to handle the fire because his family had a chimney fire when he was a teenager.
Stories like Spicer’s are very common during the cold winter months.
Owen County Fire Chief Charlie Riddle said wood stoves can have a build up of creosote in the chimney. The creosote looks like molasses and is extremely flammable. The main source of creosote is burning green or unseasoned wood.
In order to keep your home and family safe, Riddle said you must clean out the chimney at least three times a year. He said wood stove owners can hire professional chimney sweeps or buy a chimney cleaning kit available at most hardware stores.
The setup of the wood stove is very important. Riddle said the stove should not be too close to a wall or anything flammable. He also recommends a metal barrier with insulation between stove and the floor.
The main concern with chimney fires is the fire could spread to the rest of the house. Cracks in the chimney could allow flames to escape and reach the attic.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site recommends homes with wood stoves or fireplaces have functional fire alarms. They also suggest installing a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. When wood is not completely burned, it can give off many chemicals, including CO.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 200 people die every year from CO poisoning, as a result of using combustion appliances, such as wood stoves.
CO is colorless and orderless. A CO detector is the only way to ensure this deadly gas is not in your home.
“Wood stoves are a good way to heat, but there is always a danger around open flame,” Riddle said.