Durango Fire & Resuce

Winter, Heating & Fire Safety

As the temperatures drop and the smell of wood burning chimneys and stoves fill the air it is prime time to have your chimney cleaned and inspected to remove creosote buildup. Creosote is a category of carbonaceous chemicals formed by the distillation of various tars and by pyrolysis of plant-derived material, such as wood or fossil fuel – simply it is the black stuff that accumulates when incomplete combustion (burning) occurs and it “sticks” to cooler surfaces like the inside of your chimney. This is why double- and triple-walled stovepipe is preferred over single-walled. On multiple walled stovepipe the inside wall is actually able to stay at a higher temperature and the unburned fuels (creosote) going up your chimney tend to not “stick” as much and exit through the top.

Since creosote is basically unburned fuel and it collects on all stovepipe (single-, double-, and triple-walled) over time it needs to be cleaned or “swept” on a regular basis. We suggest sweeping before you start to burn in the Fall and once again halfway through Winter(sometime in middle to late January depending on how much you burn). If you are hiring a company to sweep your chimney, it is a good idea to have them inspect your system – providing you with “peace of mind” concerning materials and clearances, etc.

Whether you clean it yourself or have someone else do it, the investment in a good cleaning is well worth it in peace of mind alone.

Ashes & coals – these will both continue to ‘burn’ up to 72 hours after taking them out of your stove. PLEASE make sure you are transferring ash to a heavy duty metal (not plastic) bucket for the first cooling and then to a second bucket which you can douse with water (watch for steam) and cool completely. Do not place the ash bucket on a combustible surface such as wood. This seems like common sense, but how many times do we throw out common sense for speed and shortcuts? Please, take the time needed to safely dispose of hot ashes.

Lastly, space heaters get used a lot on these cold days. Space heater concerns are how close it is to flammable materials (curtains, wall hangings, books/papers) and how accessible it is to small children and pets.

Here are some quick things to remember as we move into this Winter heating season:

• Heating equipment is involved in 1 in every 6 reported home fires and 1 in every 5 home fire deaths.

• Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from any heat source like fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators, or space heaters.

• Keep portable generators outside, away from windows, and as far away as possible from your house. Install and test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month.

• Have a qualified professional clean and inspect your chimney and vents every year. Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container, and keep it outside at least 10 from your home and any nearby buildings.

• Plug only1 heat-producing appliance (such as a space heater) into an electrical outlet at a time.

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This Year's “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires” campaign will be focusing on electrical safety.

Electricity is so ingrained in our daily lives that most of us take it for granted, but it does carry fire risks. In fact, electrical home fires are a leading cause of home fires in the U.S. In 2013, electrical fires or malfunctions were factors in an estimated 44,900 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments. These fires caused 410 deaths, 1,180 injuries and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. On average each year between 2007 and 2011, roughly half of all home electrical fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment, while nearly another half involved other known types of equipment.

NFPA offers a wealth of electrical home fire statistics that underscore the impact electrical fires have on the home fire problem. Meanwhile, our electrical safety tip sheet (PDF) provides simple steps for safely using electrical appliances this winter and all year long.