While some home owners who burn wood view a chimney fire as "normal" and "expected", the truth is many wood burners have never experienced a chimney fire.
While newer woodstoves that burn wood efficiently help to prevent creosote build up, ...the key to preventing a chimney fire is to burn well seasoned wood, burn at the proper temperatures for the stove and chimney and frequently check and clean the chimney when needed.
"Preventing a chimney fire starts with the fuel source," says Jake Johnson, Bangor Fire Department's Public Education Officer. "You wouldn't knowingly fuel up your car with gas that had water in it and it's the same way with the wood you put in your woodstove . . . stoves work better when the wood is truly seasoned and most experts will tell you that while many folks have many different definitions of what is seasoned wood and what is green in most cases the wood should be bucked up, split and stacked for a year prior."
Johnson adds that creosote can form in a chimney by burning green, unseasoned wood, but it can also be produced when the home owner operates a stove at too low a temperature or suffocates the fire. Many times creosote production can be aggravated when the home owner shuts down the air control on an air-tight stove and lets it smolder all night long. Knowing the optimal temperature that a stove and chimney should be running at can help minimize creosote production.
Finally, Johnson says it's always a good idea to frequently inspect and clean the chimney. "It's a good idea to check the chimney every month and run a chimney brush through the chimney whenever there is a quarter inch or so of creosote," says Johnson. "It's always easier to sweep the chimney when there is just a little bit of build up versus having to yank the brush through a chimney that is almost plugged solid."
And what about those powders, logs and liquid sprays that promise to clean the chimney without any sweeping? Johnson says these powders and liquid sprays may have a place as they help convert hard glass- and tar-like creosote to drier, powdery creosote that can be swept, but he quickly adds that they are not a substitute for sweeping or burning seasoned wood at the appropriate temps.
While some home owners also may not view a chimney fire as a serious hazard, Johnson cautions that it is far too easy for a small chimney fire to develop into a more serious fire as a fire in the chimney can damage the liner and the sparks and heat from a fire can spread into the home's structure.
If you do have a chimney fire -- often heard before it is seen as it sounds like a jet or train taking off with a rumbling sound in the chimney or stove pipe -- you should immediately call 911. Attempting to fight a chimney fire without help on the way can be a dangerous and in some cases futile proposition.