If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the Fire and Rescue Service
Follow this guidance to reduce the likelihood of your chimney catching fire:
Chimney fires occur when the deposits of combustion are left within the flueways. By definition, a chimney fire is the burning of soot or creosote within the appliance, outlet or flue system, which can result in improper function of the appliance, damage to the flue, house or surrounding structures and it can even start a house fire.
Chimney fires are usually started when high temperatures or flames from a very hot fire extend into the appliance outlet or flue and the combustible deposits catch light.
This type of chimney fire can be sometimes associated with:
Important! It should be noted that it is possible to experience a chimney fire without noticing any of the above characteristics; it is also possible that any combination of the above characteristics, will be noticed. As all chimney fires are different, the above characteristics are intended only as a useful guide.
All chimney fires are extremely dangerous even though their intensity and duration may vary. During a chimney fire, internal flue temperatures may reach a staggering 1,100 degrees Celsius. As a result, massive radiant heat is emitted through the chimney walls, and with the addition of possible 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 and other parts of the house. The bricks of a 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 no apparent damage is visible on the exterior of the chimney breast or flue, it is still highly probable that damage may have occurred within the lining of the chimney. Chimney fires burn hot enough to damage liners, crack chimney walls and pots, and damage factory-built metal chimneys.
Unfortunately, with all methods of sweeping a chimney, you cannot remove tar and creosote that builds up internally within the flue if wet wood or some forms of coal are burnt in them. The tar and creosote that this creates can ingress into the fabric of the chimney. When the chimney is hot, this tar can melt and vaporise meaning it can combust if a spark rises into the vapour – resulting in a chimney fire.
Tar and creosote can only be removed by chemical means. However, if you burn smokeless fuel in the appliance, the sulphur that this produces can reverse the tar and creosote build up – but remember, smokeless fuel must only be burnt in appliances and flues designed for that purpose, and sweeping of the flue should be done by a chimney sweep until all deposits are removed and then should be monitored on a regular basis.
Heating and cooking appliances fuelled by coal, smokeless fuels, wood, oil and gas can cause CO poisoning if they are poorly installed, incorrectly used or if they are not properly and regularly maintained..
When fuel does not burn properly, it produces poisonous, and potentially deadly, CO gas. It can also damage your health permanently. The early symptoms of CO poisoning are: tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, chest pains and nausea.
Householders can reduce the risk of CO poisoning by:
The Health and Safety Executive has policy responsibility for carbon monoxide issues.
The most common causes of chimney fires are:
It is recommended that these measures are taken to help reduce the risk of chimney fire:
Remember a blocked flue can kill and the exclusion of air will put out a fire.
These types of terminals are designed to give ventilation to unused chimneys only. They should not be fitted to chimneys that have working gas, oil or solid fuel fires or boilers, as they slow the escape of the fumes from the chimney and could cause smoke and carbon monoxide to enter occupied rooms. If you have one of these fitted to your chimney ensure it is removed if you wish to use the chimney.
Any person that uses flued appliances has a responsibility to maintain the appliance and flue. It is often stated that people should take reasonable care within the terms of household insurance policies and in the instance of thatched properties, the frequency of sweeping required is often specified by the insurers.
Landlords have a duty of care to their tenants and are required:
Visit the NACS website for further technical information on chimney safety.
Chimney sweeping is important. The function of sweeping the flue/chimney is to remove the deposits that build up when the burning of carbon based fuels occur. By sweeping the flue/chimney it ensures that there is a clear and safe passage for the safe exit of combustion products, which are caused by the burning process. This lessens the chances of the chimney catching fire.
It is important to remember that all fuels contain carbon – including oil, gas, wood, charcoal, coal and smokeless fuel – and care should be taken with all flues at all times to ensure its safe use. If you do not get complete combustion then carbon monoxide will be produced.
Sweeping will also ensure the safe removal of obstructions that may have lodged inside the flue:
The other function of a chimney sweep is to help and advise people in the safe use of the appliance or intended appliance they may be called out to sweep.
Sweeping frequency recommendations:
After a chimney fire has occurred and been extinguished, the chimney must be inspected as soon as possible. A certified sweep should perform a thorough inspection before the chimney is used again to ascertain if the rapid and dramatic changes of temperature, which would have occurred within the chimney, have caused any damage and also to determine the need for any remedial measures. It is imperative that the chimney is not used prior to inspection.
If any damage is present and there is another chimney fire then it is quite likely the fire will spread to other parts of the building. If cracks are present within the flue then poisonous fumes can either filter through these cracks or damage. This may effect and dilute an effective warm air up draught and cause the fire to smoke. After a chimney fire, it is extremely important to sweep the burned "expanded" creosote residue from the flue, as this will cause obstructions and blockages within the flue. It is likely that, after a chimney fire, some damage will have occurred and remedial work will be necessary.
It is essential that a smoke test is carried out in accordance with the current Document J Standards.
You can search for a Chimney Sweep on the NACS website.
Alternatively, you can search for a chimney sweep on the HETAS website.