Fireplace and Chimney Safety

Whether you’re getting ready for old Saint Nick to arrive or just enjoying a cozy fire during the holidays, your fireplace is a hub for warmth, family, and fun. That’s why it’s important to follow these safety tips from the Chimney Safety Institute of America to help get your chimney and fireplace safe for the holidays.


Chimney fires happen when a chimney has become too dirty or there is debris in the chimney, such as leaves, branches, a critter or items such as frisbees and footballs.

Chimneys are not built to sustain fires. The sole job of a chimney is to carry dangerous gases from the source of combustion outside your home.

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), if you’re burning unseasoned wood, your chimney has a restricted air supply, or has experienced cooler-than-normal temperatures, your chimney may start experiencing a buildup of creosote. Creosote is a highly combustible residue that can appear black or brown, crusty, tar-like or shiny, and hardened. If ignored, creosote can lead to both minor and major fires and further restrict air flow.

And keeping your chimney unobstructed is not just important for fire safety, but for preventing carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Without good air flow to carry the CO outside, CO can build up in your home and cause illness or even death.


Signs that a chimney fire is happening or has happened may include:

  • An intense, hot smell
  • Dense smoke
  • Low rumbling sound or loud cracking and popping noise
  • Flames or dense smoke shooting from top of chimney
  • Cracked and discolored masonry
  • Warped chimney cap
  • Creosote flakes or ash in the chimney or on the roof

If you think a chimney fire has occurred, contact a professional chimney sweep right away for an inspection and cleaning.


  • Have a professional chimney sweep inspect and clean your chimney once a year, even if you did not use it — critters may have taken up residence in your chimney and can create a problem.
  • Check annually that the chimney cap is intact, secure, and unobstructed. 
  • Use a metal or heat-tempered glass screen.
  • Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away from the fireplace.
  • Make sure children and pets stay 3 feet away from the fireplace.
  • Only burn dry, seasoned, healthy wood.
  • Use fireplace tools when adjusting the fire, and never move logs with your hands.
  • Always put fires out before you go to bed or leave home.
  • Cool ashes outside in a lidded, metal container.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
When in doubt, always refer to a professional chimney sweep's opinion about what's right for your home.


Done having your chimney inspected for the year? Consider inspecting your home insurance with Grinnell Mutual.

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