Capitol Connection: Preventing Chimney Fires

December 23, 2014

It’s officially winter, and that means many of us have our fireplaces and chimneys up and running. While we all love a nice warm fire, it’s important to make sure safety always comes first in the months ahead. Here are a few important tips from some of Connecticut’s top agencies tasked with promoting fire safety.


The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection encourages inspection and cleaning of chimney flus to combat the dangers of creosote – the dark combustion residue that collects inside. If creosote builds up, it can catch fire and crack “fireproof” liners, possibly letting heat escape into nearby wood frames or other flammable materials in your home. Creosote deposits greater than 1/8 inch thick should be removed.

Consumer Protection officials recommend having your chimney inspected and cleaned in late spring or early summer before heating season starts, but it really is never too late.

When you are inspecting your chimney, or when a professional is, make sure the following things are inspected:

  • Check the firebox for damaged brick and missing or crumbling mortar.
  • Open the damper completely to be sure it moves freely and fits snugly against the smoke shelf.
  • Use a flashlight to check the damper for cracks, pitting or rusted-out sections.
  • Look for any debris that may restrict air flow and remove it.
  • Check for broken or damaged bricks or flue liners (vertical cracking in the liner is a sign of a previous flue fire and is a serious problem that must be repaired).

To find a chimney sweep you can visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America web site at or the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) at The Department of Consumer Protection also has some tips to avoid chimney repair fraud:

  • Don’t hire a chimney sweep that shows up at your door uninvited, this could be a scam.
  • If a sweep tells you there is something broken, collapsed, and needs to be replaced you are encouraged to get a second opinion and contact your local building official to find out if you need a building permit.
  • If a sweep seems to be pressuring you into paying for a repair immediately, or trying to scare you by using terms like “carbon monoxide poisoning” or “house fire” in a way that feels alarming, you should get another opinion.
  • If a sweep shows you pictures of damage, make sure there’s some way to tell they are actually from your home, such as looking for an identifiable object in the background.

Good Practices

In addition to chimney fires, dangers from fireplaces in general can also be prevented by following some smart safety practices. For example, according to the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, part of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, fireplaces should always be used with a screen to prevent sparks and embers from coming into the room where they could create fires.

The Commission also recommends that ashes from a spent fire always be disposed in a covered metal container and stored at least ten feet away from your home. Ashes can hold heat for several days which can cause future fires.

And finally, perhaps the most common sense practice and also one of the most necessary, check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly to make sure everything is working. Remember, working smoke alarms save lives. When you change your clock, change your battery. And test often!

For more information about emergency response resources, visit You can also contact the State Fire Marshal by calling 860-713-5750 or emailing [email protected] if you have questions about fire safety.