Texas home’s chimney catches fire – what homeowners and the fire chief want you to know

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin Fire Department has a warning when you increase your home’s heat sources in cold weather.

AFD claims to have extinguished two fires in the past 24 hours. One after a radiator was too close to a fuel. The other – a surprise problem in an owner’s fireplace.

Austin Fire Department chief Thayer Smith said a house fire on Westlake Drive was due to lack of space or headroom between the flue and the chimney. He says part of the duct actually touched the wooden enclosure and, through a process called pyrolysis, caught fire.

“Wood actually breaks down and turns into a charcoal-like substance over years and years of heating,” Smith said.

This photo shows part of the chimney flue touching the wooden enclosure, which is now charred after the fire. (Source: Austin Fire Department)

“I never thought about it. We’ve had fires in this fireplace since 1997,” says owner Phillip Berry, who says they started their first fire of the season Thursday night.

After a few hours, Berry said his wife, Susan Landers, received a phone call from their fire alarm company saying there was a fire upstairs.

“She went upstairs and said, ‘It’s really smoky in here!’ And the lady said to him: ‘Get out of there, out of the house!’ Berry remembers. “When she got down she said, ‘I could hear – I could hear the fire crackling behind the wall.’ I went, ‘Oh! We have to get out of here! ‘ “

Berry gave a tour of his home to KXAN on Friday. Firefighters had knocked down the wall of the upstairs fireplace, where the fire started. The carpet is soaked with fire hoses and there is insulation debris, as well as drywall all over the floor.

Smith says the current code requires at least two inches of clearance between a flue and its surroundings, depending on the type of chimney, the flue, and the materials used.

But he thinks the minimum is not enough, especially when the chimney is not made of stone or brick, which he says is more common in other areas.

“Around here, you see a lot of wood, low clearance wooden fireplaces. And just over time, that’s just a recipe, ”says Smith.

So if you’re building a house, Smith says it’s a good idea to ask for more space than what’s required – at least six inches, depending on the materials used.

Berry and Landers agree.

“I think it would be prudent for people buying a home, new or old, to try to figure out… how their fireplace and chimney are built,” Berry said.

The couple say their smoke detector saved their home – and possibly their lives.

“I’m so thankful that my house didn’t burn down,” Landers said.

AFD reminds people to make sure all of their smoke detectors are working, and maybe place one closer to your fireplace.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America says a visit to your attic can give you an idea of ​​your clearances, but homeowners should never inspect their chimney, fireplace, or ventilation system themselves and should instead call a CSIA certified chimney sweep.

The couple are yet to cancel Thanksgiving with their family, hoping the power will be restored in time.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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