Firefighters in your living room - John Hammond, with thermal imaging camera, Jamie Tooth with chimney roads and John Mackenzie (right) demonstrate how they tackle a chimney fire
Chimney fires can cause thousands of pounds in damage to a home as well as putting lives at risk, warn Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service. Householders can also lose out in an insurance claim unless they can prove they regularly had the chimney swept, revealed one man whose mother’s home suffered a serious chimney fire. A qualified sweep must carry out the work at least once a year, say the brigade’s community fire safety officers. They are appealing to householders who have open fires or a woodburner to ensure chimneys are regularly swept to avoid a serious house fire. While evening and night time temperatures remain cold, people are turning to open fires and woodburners to reduce heating bills. But some are using unseasoned or green wood which causes an unseen build-up of tar inside a chimney flue which can lead to a fire, warned Rabinder Dhami, community fire safety manager, based at the Shrewsbury fire HQ. An elderly woman from Church Stretton, who had fallen asleep in front of her fire, had a narrow escape last year when her chimney set alight. Fortunately a neighbour heard the smoke alarm and alerted firefighters who arrived to find the home full of smoke. They led the 93-year-old woman to safety before using heat seeking equipment to discover the flames had spread into a second, unused bedroom chimney where a bird’s nest was fuelling the flames. Firefighters had to cut through brickwork to put out “hotspots” to ensure the fire did not spread further into the roof trusses at the three bedroomed property in Central Avenue. “As luck would have it, they just managed to contain the fire. It was absolutely glowing fierce when the firefighters arrived,” said the woman’s grateful son Steve Gardner, who had ensured the chimney was swept twice a year by a professional chimney sweep. “The problem was that my parents were terrible for burning green, unseasoned timber which left thick tar deposits over many years. They caught fire and it all went up in flames.” Thousands of pounds in damage was caused to the home with the chimney having to be re-lined to cover tar deposits, fireplace refit, all carpets, curtains and bed linen cleaned and walls washed down to remove the searing smell of smoke. “The firefighters were brilliant. They didn’t leave any mess at all. But my mum couldn’t live in her home until everything was cleaned up. “The important message is to have your chimney swept and ensure you have the proof. I had to get a letter from my chimney sweep to confirm it had been swept regularly. It doesn’t cost much to have it swept and it can save you a lot of trouble later,” added Mr Gardener, a painter and decorator from Shrewsbury. There were 149 chimney fires in Shropshire homes in 2012 to 2013.