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Shelton Fire Department: Time for Wood Stove Safety

The right way to store ashes.
The right way to store ashes.

So you've got that new wood stove and you're happy you're saving on heating bills.

But there are few caveats, according to the Shelton Fire Department.

"While there are several ways that a stove or fireplace may cause a fire, experience in Shelton and throughout Connecticut demonstrates that fires resulting from improper disposal of ashes and lack of chimney cleaning are among the most common," said Ted Pisciotta, Assistant Chief – Fire Prevention.

Serious fire damage has resulted when homeowners have disposed of ashes in plastic or cardboard containers, boxes, and bags. Creosote build-up in chimneys, which is the result of incomplete combustion, has also led to many fires.

According to Pisciotta, both fire causes are very easily preventable. For example, use of a tightly covered metal container for removal of ashes that is kept outdoors a safe distance from the house or any combustible structure can prevent a fire and save lives. 

Before Use:

·         Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary by a professional. Even with burning proper wood, creosote can build up over time.

·         Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction, and design.  Purchase wood stoves evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

·         Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly.  Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36 inches) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.

·         Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

·         Install a stovepipe thermometer to help monitor flue temperatures.

Safe Use:

·         Prevent the build-up of creosote within chimney flue by properly seasoned wood.  Do not burn “green” wood.

·         Don’t build roaring fires in fireplaces. Keep fires small. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.

·         A stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15-30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

·         Do not burn paper or trash within a stove or fireplace. Flaming paper will rise with the smoke and can ignite creosote build-up or roofing materials.

·         Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.

·         If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package.  NEVER break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time.  They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide. Do not burn synthetic logs within stoves.

·         Never burn charcoal indoors.  Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

·         Always use a metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.

·         Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.  Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.

·         Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise, you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

·         Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel.  A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and materials that can burn.

After Use:

·         Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing. Store removed ashes in a tightly covered metal container and locate outdoors a safe distance from the house or any combustible structure.  DO NOT place ashes in boxes, bags, or containers. Never store ashes on a wood deck, within a garage, or anywhere near the house.

·         Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out.  NEVER close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace.  A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.

Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Know when and how to call “911” for help.  And remember to practice your home escape plan.

For more information, the public is encouraged to contact the Shelton Fire Prevention Bureau at 924-1555 or on the web under “Public Safety” at www.cityofshelton.org.               


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