KELLOGG — With the colder temperatures, many Silver Valley residents are kicking up their wood stoves and putting their chimneys to work to stave off Old Man Winter. Before you light that kindling though, it’s vital that you make sure your stove and/or chimney are in working order — otherwise you could have a much bigger problem on your hands than being chilly.
Firefighters with Shoshone County Fire District No. 2 know this all too well and got some firsthand examples of it last week after they responded to three wood stove and chimney related fires within days of each other.
The first fire occurred on Feb. 4 at 808 B St. in Pinehurst. Fire crews were toned out to the blaze around 5:32 p.m. and arrived on scene to the sight of a two-car detached garage fully engulfed in flames. Inside the garage (and adjoining lean-to) was a car, pick-up truck and a 16-foot camper trailer.
SCFD No. 2 Fire Chief Mark Aamodt explained that the initial fire attack was accomplished with two hand lines (hoses) — one line initially to begin suppression and the other for suppression and structure protection of the single-wide mobile home only 6 to 8 feet away.
The main flames were extinguished in roughly 20 minutes and damage was confined to the original garage and vehicles within it. With no injuries reported and a brief investigation conducted, crews cleared the scene at 7:21 p.m.
Based on what was found at the scene, Aamodt believes that an improperly installed/damaged stove pipe was what caused the fire.
Two days later on Feb. 6, SCFD No. 2 crews received a report of a chimney fire coming from 605 S. Division St. in Kellogg.
Before their arrival at the scene shortly after 1 p.m., the occupant of the affected home had already attempted to control the fire by using a dry chemical extinguisher. This slowed the chimney fire down, but it began burning again not long after.
“After assessing the condition of the chimney from the roof, it was decided to drop packets of dry chemical down the chimney in an attempt to cool it,” Aamodt said. “The chimney could not be completely extinguished, so the crews stood by until it cooled to a safe level.”
Thankfully for the occupant, the fire was confined to the chimney and no injuries were incurred.
A quick investigation of the scene showed that improper chimney maintenance was to blame for the fire.
“The homeowner had already made plans to clean the chimney, but was cautioned to wait until the creosote had fully cooled so the clean out box would not become packed with hot creosote,” Aamodt said.
The very next day, SCFD No. 2 personnel were once again called back to Pinehurst around 6:35 p.m. for a report of a fire at 810 A St.
Firefighters arrived on scene and found an open flame at the far wall of a single-car garage. Catching it early, crews were able to extinguish the main fire in 15 minutes and confine the damage to the immediate area.
“Structure damage consisted of a wall being completely burned through between two studs and extended into the rafter area of the gable,” Aamodt said. “The vehicle parked in the garage only had light smoke damage.”
Due in part to the location of the blaze, it was determined that this fire was caused by improper installation of a wood stove chimney.
With three wood stove and chimney related fire incidents in such a short amount of time, Aamodt would like to remind residents to be safe when heating their homes this winter.
“It is that time of year when the wood heating has been in heavy use for a while,” he said. “Please be sure to take the time to check your chimneys and equipment to make sure everything is in safe operation condition.”
Aamodt stresses that this thoroughness especially applies to Silver Valley residents when it comes to chimneys.
“Chimney fires are sometimes thought of as not a hazard, however that thought is completely false,” he said. “This chimney (in the Kellogg fire on Feb. 6) was a great example of why they are a concern. Many of the homes in our area are much older in construction and the chimneys were not constructed for wood heating appliances. These older chimneys do not have either clay or tile lining that is used today. After having a chimney fire, the mortar in these older chimneys becomes brittle and dries out. This causes the mortar to disintegrate or just fall out. Then burning creosote and heat escape through these defects and catches insulation, framing, siding and items stored around the chimney on fire. Each time these chimneys have a fire, it just increases the chances of devastating consequences.”
IDEQ West Silver Valley Community Airshed Project Coordinator Dan Smith agrees with Aamodt about the dangers of chimney fires and as someone who has been working with chimneys a lot lately (as part of the Wood Stove Change-out Program), he knows a great deal about having and maintaining them.
“…I think these folks really dodged a bullet,” he said of those affected by the fires. “As Chief Aamodt points out, lack of proper installation and proper chimney care is a huge issue. I recommend having all wood burning chimneys professionally cleaned every other year for sure, but yearly is better. A professional chimney sweep can inspect the chimney, make sure the installation is correct and either fix the issue or recommend a licensed professional to get the work done.”
If a chimney sweep is certified by both the National Fireplace Institute and the Chimney Safety Institute of America, you can most likely be assured to have a clean and safe chimney.
“It costs some money,” Smith said, “but compared to losing your home, and maybe your life, it is cheap insurance.”
Of the 93 wood stoves Smith has replaced over the last two years with the West Silver Valley Wood Stove Change-out Program, only one chimney was able to pass inspection without some form of remedial work and several required a full replacement.