How you know you’re finally over your chimney fire phobia…

You start getting lazy about cleaning the stovepipe.

I had a chimney fire eleven years ago – very different circumstances, wrong stove, wrong pipe, wrong wood – and it scared the ever loving shit out of me. Understandable, I suppose: I’d only moved in a few months earlier and the cabin took me years to build to the point of habitability. Was it really going to be that easy to burn the whole thing down?

Money is always an issue but by early the next winter I could get a better stove, and not long afterward I started burning old pallets and lumber instead of juniper, and logically I should have put my fears of a repeat behind me but fear often has very little to do with logic. For the next three or four winters I scrubbed the stovepipe weekly and I was terrified of a big hot rumbling fire even though I knew – logically – that those cool smoldering fires were what earned me the quick creosote buildup in the first place.

Very gradually I got over my fears to the point where I was only diligent about pipe scrubbing, no longer neurotic. Took me longer to enjoy the sound of a rumbling stove, but at least I wasn’t shivering in an overcoat for fear of lighting the fire. Now this winter I finally seem to have shaken off the increase in heartrate every time the fire really takes hold – and sonuvagun what with everything that went on last month I completely forgot the January stovepipe scrub*. Made up for it this morning, but considering how long it has taken to relax and learn to love the woodstove, for once I’m almost proud of my sloth.

*It needed it, too. One of the disadvantages of the loft and the resulting high ceiling is that the stovepipe is really long and has a hard time heating up its whole length. So I get more buildup that I’d have with a short double-wall pipe. Mostly just soot, but I don’t want to find out (again) how much creosote.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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7 Responses to How you know you’re finally over your chimney fire phobia…

  1. Dan says:

    Hard to be too careful when it comes to fire.

  2. paulb says:

    You need to careful. But other than the noise I am not sure a flu fire is all that dangerous. That being said it is not my stove and I have never heated 100% with wood. My brother did and I done recall him ever having that problem. Although he burned maple and his chimney was well over 30 feet top to bottom. Might have mitigated the issue.

  3. RCPete says:

    I’ve heard of flue fires where the single-wall stack gets red hot near the ceiling. If the construction is not-so-good, you could have a roof fire.

    Around here, firewood is either pine or juniper. (Mountain mahogany is available, but not a lot of it.) We get fewer flue fires than you’d expect…

  4. Malatrope says:

    A hot flue fire acts like a ramjet and can actually melt a metal chimney if there’s enough creosote. They got their bad reputation, though, because in a brick chimney they will blow the mortar out and send jets of flame into the rafters.

    If the stove is really tight, they can be put out just by shutting down the draft completely

  5. RCPete says:

    In my brief stint as a volunteer fire fighter, the chief said you could put baking soda in a paper bag and throw the bag in the fire. (Quantity unknown, but several ounces sounds about right.) As the bicarb breaks down, it’ll displace the oxygen. A bit of web searching says table salt will accomplish the same thing (though then you have a lot of chlorine in the stove & stack). Not a good idea to sprinkle the bicarb — think flour explosion.

    There’s a commerical product called Chimfex that’s designed for that purpose. It looks like a road flare (starts like one, too), and it’s “only” $30 per shot at Amazon.

    FWIW, there are products that will break down creosote. They should be good for moderate amounts. I had a house where the previous owner (a fireman, who should have known better) did a stove install that had a thick coating of creosote all in the chimney. Creosote dripping into your fire is not a good sign, but I got it fixed. The sweep said to try the log, but it couldn’t do much. A stainless liner and a new stove worked all right.

  6. anonymous says:

    Joel how many large commercial fire extinguishers do you have? They are not that expensive. One next to your bed, one near your kitchen stove, several in your main living area plus protection for your firewood pile, shop and batteries and reloading setup. Baking soda is nice but you are isolated and on your own, something more professional seems useful. BTW in case you have any lithium ion batteries around, are you aware of the explosive/fire potential and the fact that they need a special fire extinguisher. Some of my power tools came with them and I wish they hadn’t. IMHO they are too dangerous for home use.

  7. Joel says:

    I have several small household fire extinguishers scattered around, more or less as you suggest. Presently there are three of them within easy reach of the wood stove and kitchen. A big commercial one would get in the way – I really don’t know where I’d put it.

    Of lithium ion batteries I have the usual assortment, they’re in pretty much everything these days. The only one that ever misbehaved was in my smartphone a few years ago: That got a little scary but never actually blew up or caught fire.

To the stake with the heretic!