The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 12, 2003


Chimney and woodstove fire safety

The Carlisle Fire Department responds to about ten calls for chimney and/or woodstove problems and fires each year. As we approach the heating season, and as the cost of fuel oil and gas increase, fireplace and woodstove use is on an increase also. This is the time of the year to review chimney and woodstove safety. There is still time to accomplish necessary maintenance before the severe winter weather arrives.

In 2000, there were 488 fire incidents involving solid-fueled appliances, fireplaces, and chimneys in Massachusetts. These fires were responsible for 27 injuries, 3 deaths and resulted in 3.9 million in property losses. These incidents make up 50% of all fires linked to heating systems.


Be sure the stove you are purchasing to burn wood or coal is approved by Underwriter's Laboratory or another recognized testing laboratory.


A building permit must be obtained prior to the installation of fireplaces, wood or coal burning stoves and must be inspected by the local building inspector prior to their initial use as required by the Massachusetts State Building Code.

Allow at least 36 inches of clearance around the appliance to prevent combustibles from coming into contact with a heat source.

Solid fuel heating appliances cannot share a common flue with chimney flues utilized by other solid fuel, fossil fuel, or gas-fired appliances


Have the chimney and flue inspected by a qualified mason prior to use. Cracks in the flue or mortar joints can allow flames and heated gasses to extend into the structure.

Proper Use

Most chimney fires occur due to a build-up of creosote, a tarry by-product of burning wood. Have your chimney flue cleaned before each heating season. Burn only dry, well-seasoned hardwood to reduce creosote accumulation.

Do not use flammable liquids to start the fire.

Never leave children unattended near the stove.

Check that the damper is open before lighting the fire. Failure to do so can result in an accumulation of smoke and carbon monoxide within the home. Do not close the damper before the fire has died out and the embers are cold.

Use a fireplace screen to prevent flying sparks and embers from falling out onto the floor.

Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to provide protection for your family.

Proper Ash Disposal

Ashes cleaned out from the stove or fireplace should be shoveled into a metal bucket with a metal lid, placed outside, on the ground, away from the building, to prevent fires. Do not place ashes into a paper bag or cardboard box. Ashes and embers can stay hot for days and ignite combustibles.

If you have a problem with your fireplace or woodstove and you are faced with an unsafe or questionable situation, call 911. As a standard procedure the fire department will send an engine and the ladder truck. This will bring six to eight firefighters to your home within eight to ten minutes of your call. Upon arrival the officer in charge will make an assessment of the condition. Routine actions we take include putting a ladder to the roof as a precaution. In addition we use infrared thermometers to determine the heat levels of the stove and surrounding materials. Finally we check your home for carbon monoxide and ventilate if necessary. Lastly we advise you of what we find in the process of our investigation and make recommendations for your safety as necessary. You can be assured that we will not leave your home until we have determined that it is safe.

For questions and further information on woodstove and fireplace safety you may contact our fire prevention office at 1-978-287-0072.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito