Had a little incident last night. This morning, actually. Scared the crap out of me, even though I was pretty sure even at the time that there was nothing to be afraid of.
Long-time readers will recall that last winter I had two, er, fire-related incidents. The first isn’t technically relevant, since it only involves something very stupid I did involving a whole bunch of propane. The next was more of a legitimate learning experience: You need to heat up your stovepipe to get a good draft going, and also to keep (highly flammable) creosote from building up in there. Otherwise, sooner or later you’ll get a chimney fire and that’s bad.
Since that second incident, I’ve grown leery to the point of paranoia about starting a fire in my own living room. Look, I’m from Detroit. I never heated with wood before last winter, and it turns out there are some twists and cul-de-sacs you really should apply yourself to learning.
Anyway: Since the chimney fire I pay very close attention to the temperature indicated by that stovepipe thermometer.
And I like to see it no more than scratch the lower part of the “best operation” range. More than that and my blood pressure starts to spike. I’m aware – intellectually – that people heat these things until they glow. I don’t.
So anyway. Get on with the story, Joel. Winter pretty much officially arrived yesterday, with cold and threatening overcast and really strong wind. Had the fire going in my new stove all day, and spent some of it experimenting with different arrangements of firewood and dampers, learning how the stove likes to work best. I’ve got the thermometer on the pipe about six inches above the collar, and at no point during the day did the indicated temperature get as high as 300 degrees.
I was up later than usual, but around midnight I was definitely ready to go to bed. I had a juniper log on the coal bed and it had lots of life in it. Throttled back the damper and watched the fire settle down. Then I got to wondering what would happen if I put a second log on: Would it slowly burn over hours? The outside temperature was already in the low teens. Yeah, give it a try.
Second log caught fire right away and burned very enthusiastically, which wasn’t in the plan. Pipe temperature started to climb. 300. 350. Stabilized around 350. Okay, I could live with that. Both dampers were as closed as they could be, which isn’t very closed, but the fire had the bit between its teeth now. It really liked that second log. I’m sitting with a book in my hand, pretending to myself that my whole attention isn’t riveted to that thermometer. No way I was going to bed now.
And then the indicator started to visibly move. Upward. It climbed a hundred degrees in a minute. I flashed back to that very unpleasant morning in February, and my pituitary helpfully decided that what this situation needed was six or eight gallons of adrenalin in my bloodstream. That didn’t help with the critical thinking skills, which would have been more appropriate. I kept telling myself the pipe to the ceiling is all of five days old and the rest is freshly cleaned, and there’s no way I was looking at a chimney fire. This, I told myself, is normal. The roof will not, can not, catch on fire from this. It didn’t help.
At no time did the stove or the pipe or the cabin seem to think this was a bad thing. In fact you could say that for the first time everything was working great. As the night had progressed and the outside temperature crashed, the small fire I’d maintained all day became less and less adequate. Now at last the indoor temp rose – though really not all that much. Which tells me that what I did last night is probably what I’ve been supposed to do – but I didn’t like it at all.
The indicated temperature stabilized at 450, when I’d already decided if it goes to 500 I’m expending a fire extinguisher. Then it slowly dropped back to 350 and stayed there. I finally went to bed a little before 2, but didn’t sleep well.
There’s a tag right on the stove’s door that says, “if the pipe collar glows red, you’re overfiring the stove.” Ya think? For the record the collar didn’t glow, nor probably even came close to doing so. I’m pretty sure last night’s “emergency” was all in my head.
I could use some expert advice here. Was that normal?