Do Chimney Fires Burn Themselves Out?

Having a wood-burning fireplace in your home is incredible; the heat and comfort it provides is immeasurable. But we all have this same question when we move into a place that has a chimney; what do I do if it catches fire, and will it burn itself out?

Some chimney fires do burn themselves out, and in most cases, they aren’t shooting flames out of your fireplace like you may have imagined. However, If you do recognize a chimney fire, call your local fire department immediately.

In this article, we cover all aspects of chimney fires, and by the end, you will know exactly what you need to do to prevent future fires and if you ever have one!

Will A Chimney Fire Burn Itself Out?

Some slow-burning chimney fires will burn themselves out because of a lack of fuel or oxygen to allow it to keep burning. Fast-burning chimney fires are likely to spread to other areas of the house if they are not managed and controlled.

We do not recommend waiting for the chimney fire to burn itself out; it can cause significant damage to your chimney and potentially spread to other parts of your home. Call emergency services to come and put out the fire for you!

Slow Burning Fires May Burn Themselves Out

What we mean by a slow-burning fire is that there isn’t enough airflow or fuel for the fire to burn quickly and oftentimes will go undetected. You might not have even noticed that your chimney had been on fire in the past until you have had your chimney inspected.

Once there is no more fuel or airflow, the fire can burn itself out. However, these ‘slow-burning’ fires still get to incredibly hot temperatures and cause damage to the chimney structure. That’s why it is recommended that you get an annual inspection done on it to ensure its safety.

What Causes A Chimney Fire?

The number one cause of chimney fires across the globe is the build-up of a flammable substance called creosote. When heated, it will drip into the fire and cause a much larger flame which in turn can cause a chimney fire.

Creosote occurs when the smoke climbing out your chimney cools off and combines with water and several other chemicals within your chimney. The build-up that remains has three stages you will see it in.

  • Creosote starts off as flaky and loose, something that is easily cleanable by simply brushing it away.
  • The second stage sees the creosote turning into a tar-like substance that requires brushes and scrapers to clean off.
  • Lastly, it becomes hardened and very hard to scrape off. It can, at high temperatures, turn back to a liquid and drip down your chimney.

When it hits the third stage, it isn’t a question of if there will be a chimney fire but a question of when it will happen.

The reason for this is because creosote is highly flammable. It will take time for the creosote to build up from the top of the chimney down, but once it catches fire, it will all go up in flames, causing very high temperatures.

How Do You Recognize A Chimney Fire?

If you see large plumes of black smoke coming out of your chimney or hear a deafening low rumble coming from your fireplace, those are sure signs of an active chimney fire.

We mentioned slow-burning fires above, but there are also fast-burning chimney fires that you need to look out for.

For fast-burning chimney fires:

  • You may hear loud popping noises or a low rumbling noise that sounds like a low-flying airplane
  • There may be large plumes of black smoke coming out the top of your chimney, or even sparks coming out. This is not normal.
  • There may be a really intense hot smell.

The most likely case for slow-burning chimney fires, is that you won’t notice that it has happened until your annual chimney inspection. This type of fire doesn’t have enough airflow to be dramatic or visible like the other described, which makes it equally as dangerous.

What To Do If There’s A Chimney Fire?

Call the fire department and use your chimney fire extinguisher if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, get everyone out of the house and wait for emergency services to arrive!

The first thing that should happen is being prepared for if you ever have a chimney fire. A couple of things that you should do is have a fire alarm/detector installed if it isn’t already and purchase a chimney fire extinguisher. This is an extinguisher that is designed for the purpose of putting out a chimney fire by sending smoke up the chimney.

If you do notice that there is an active fire in your chimney, the first thing you should do is call the fire department and get everyone in the building outside.

The next thing that can be done is to use your chimney fire extinguisher and, if possible, close the doors to the fireplace to prevent as much airflow to the fire as possible.

A third thing that you could do is spraying down your roof to try and prevent the fire from spreading to it. Something to note here; spraying water onto your chimney while it is so hot may cause damage to the masonry, and you might want to just wait for the fire department to handle this job.

What Do I Do After A Chimney Fire?

Whether you have determined that there once was a fire in your chimney or just had a chimney fire occur in your house, you will need to get a certified chimney inspection done.

This is to find out what damage has occurred to the chimney structure and whether or not it will be safe to use as it is or if it will require repairs.

Will My Chimney Fire Reignite?

The cause of your chimney fire was the heat igniting the creosote, once the fire has been contained and put out, your chimney will not catch fire again. Either it will be doused by water from the fire crew or via a fire extinguisher which will smother the flames and the flammable material.

How Do I Prevent Chimney Fires?

The most effective way to prevent chimney fires is by getting annual inspections done on your chimney. This annual maintenance will give you peace of mind while using your fireplace.

The reason why we recommend getting a chimney inspection done rather than just getting it cleaned is in case there was a chimney fire that occurred but was just never noticed or caught when it happened.

A typical inspection includes getting the chimney swept out and making sure there is no creosote debris or residue left inside your chimney. This will ensure that it is safe to use for the next year and increase your confidence in your fireplace and chimney that there will be no problems going forward!

Something else you can be conscious of is only burning seasoned firewood in your fireplace. Seasoned means that it has been dried out for 6+ months, making sure it will burn clean and hot, causing less smoke and residue to build up inside your chimney.

The last thing we can recommend is installing a chimney cap. This will prevent debris from falling into your chimney, getting that extra safety and longevity out of your chimney.

Chimney Fires May Burn Themselves Out

Chimney fires do burn themselves out occasionally. Regardless of whether a chimney fire burns itself out or not you will want to get your chimney inspected to ensure the safety of your chimney and your home!

Dan Westfield

Hi everyone! My name is Dan and I currently have two fireplaces, a wood-burning and a gas one. I cannot live without them and love to share my passion with you all!

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