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Open Fire, Stove and Chimney Safety

Chimney fires happen when soot or creosote deposits in the chimney catch light due to high temperatures or flames from a very hot fire extending into the outlet. These types of chimney fires are sometimes associated with:

  • A loud roaring noise, the result of massive amounts of air bring sucked through the burner or fireplace opening
  • Sparks and flames seen shooting from the chimney top, which can be similar to fireworks in appearance
  • A glowing or shimmering outlet or connector
  • A vibrating appliance, outlet or connector
  • Flames visible through any tiny cracks in the outlet or connector
  • Smoke or smells noticeable in adjoining rooms or the loft space
  • The chimney breast of flue pipe heating up in either the same room or other rooms they pass through.

It should be noted that it is possible to experience a chimney fire without any of these characteristics so this should be treated as a guide.

All chimney fires are extremely dangerous - internal flue temperatures can reach 1,100 degrees Celsius. As a result, massive radiant heat is emitted through the chimney walls and, with the addition of a thatched or wooden roofs, a devastating house fire can start quickly. Flames and sparks can leap from the chimney top or through cracks in the flue and ignite the roof or other parts of the house. The bricks of the chimney can become hot enough to combust nearby flammable materials such as thatch and wooden beams. Adjoining houses and nearby trees can also be affected.

If there is no apparent damage to the outside of the chimney breast or flue, it is still highly likely that there is damage to the lining of the chimney. Chimney fires burn hot enough to damage liners, crack chimney walls and pots and damage factory-built metal chimneys.

In 2010/11, the Service attended 172 chimney fires in properties in Derbyshire.

Always make sure that you have a working smoke alarm fitted to each floor of your house. They help save lives by giving you earlier warning of a fire and extra seconds to get out. Make sure you have an escape plan in the event of a fire.

If you have a fire, get out, stay out and call 999.

Preventing Chimney Fires

There are four main reasons for chimney fires happening:

  1. Infrequent sweeping and cleaning
  2. Burning unseasoned wet wood
  3. Improper appliance sizing
  4. Overnight burning or smouldering wood for long periods in wood burners.

To reduce the risk of a chimney fire, you should:

  • Have your chimney swept on a regular basis
  • Make sure all wood burnt has a moisture content below 17 per cent, by buying seasoned wood from reputable suppliers
  • Choose the correct size appliance for your room. One which is too large will never burn all of the fuel contained in the wood. This unburned fuel will pass up the chimney as smoke and condense as extremely flammable creosote
  • If you have a wood burner, always follow the manufacturer's recommendations on fuel loading and air flow.Save 

Anyone that has an appliance with a flue has a responsibility to maintain the appliance and the flue. It is often stated that people should take reasonable care within the terms of household insurance policies and, in the case of thatched properties, the frequency of sweeping is often specified by the insurers.

If you are in a rented property, your landlord has a duty of care towards you as a tenant 'to repair and keep in any working order, any room heater and water heating equipment'.

Chimney Sweeping

Sweeping your flue/chimney removes deposits which have built up due to the burning of carbon-based fuels, such as coal, wood, oil and gas. It makes sure there is a clear and safe passage for gases caused by the burning process, which are combustible, making the risk of the chimney catching fire less.

Sweeping will also mean that objects such as nests, cobwebs and loose brickwork, which could obstruct the chimney, are also removed.

For further technical information on chimney sweeping and to locate a registered sweep please visit:

The National Association of Chimney Engineers (NACE)

The Guild of Master Sweeps -

The National Association of Chimney Sweeps -

The Association of Professional and Independent Chimney Sweeps -

You may also download a copy of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps Heat Your Home Safely leaflet and our Open Fires and Chimney Fires leaflet which can be found below.

After a Chimney Fire

After a chimney fire has been put out, the chimney must be inspected as soon as possible. It should not be used until this inspection has been carried out.

A certified chimney sweep should carry out a thorough inspection before the chimney is used again to see if there has been any damage caused and any remedial work needed.

Open fires and wood burners

An open fire or a wood burner might provide a focal point to a room and an alternative way of heating your home. But they also bring an increased risk of a fire if not looked after properly and chimneys not maintained.

The main points to remember if you have an open fire or wood burner are to:

  • Always use a fire guard to protect against sparks from hot embers
  • Make sure that the fire is put out before going to bed at night or leaving the house
  • Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained - make sure your chimney is swept regularly
  • Make sure your chimney is swept according to the type of fuel used - smokeless fuels at least once a year; bituminous coal at least twice a year, wood quarterly when in use, oil once a year and gas once a year
  • Never interrupt the air supply by blocking air vents or air bricks.