Chimney Fire - Photo credit: Paul Cunningham
Photo credit: Paul Cunningham

Up here in Montana, most of us are big users of wood stoves. With all this wood around, why do anything else for heating?

But, as most of us know from painful personal experience or from people we know, wood stoves and chimneys come with a potential danger: chimney fires. Chimney fires are caused by creosote buildup catching on fire, which, in turn is caused by smoke condensing in a relatively cool (under 250° F) part of the wood stove.

A chimney fire can, if hot enough, catch your rafters and frame on fire. Not something you want to happen at 2 a.m. in the middle of December with the wind going at 20 miles an hour. (That last one isn’t a joke, either; several of us are firemen and have been on the roof in exactly those circumstances.) October is Fire Prevention Month, so here’s our 2 cent’s worth on chimney fire prevention and prep.

Prevent Chimney Fires

  • chimney cleaning brush -part of  chimney fire preventionClean your chimney regularly: at least once a year. Now that heating season gearing up, it’s a prime time to do it. Spring is a great time too, as it’s a good idea to get the creosote out as soon as possible. Several of WBC’s stores carry chimney cleaning supplies; just ask.
  • If you have a stovepipe chimney and had a chimney fire in the past, replace it. Chimney fires ruin stovepipes. Again, WBC has all your stovepipe needs.
  • If you’re putting in a new stovepipe or replacing an old one, do not install the stovepipe upside-down. In other words, always install the pipe with the crimped part pointed down. Some people turn the pipe with the crimped side up, thinking that smoke is less likely to come into the room that way. Problem: with the crimped side up, creosote will run down the pipe, out through the joint, create a fire hazard, and ruin your floor. If, on the other hand, your pipes match each other and the stove, you won’t have a problem with it smoking if it’s installed the correct way.
  • Burn a really hot fire in the morning to burn the creosote out. Don’t do this until you’ve cleaned the chimney. Otherwise you’ll catch it on fire! Note that this will only reach the stuff near the stove; if you’ve got creosote further up, clean it.
  • Keep a close eye on it in fall. Since we’re not full-bore into a Montana winter yet, chances are you’re not burning all day. That’s fine, but it also means the creosote has less chance to melt and run down the chimney. Again, make a hot fire in the morning.
  • Use dry wood; preferably firewood that has been seasoned from 8-12 months or more. Less water means less smoke and less creosote. Don’t use treated wood (construction scraps, anything painted, etc.); it releases poisons into the air.
  • Inspect your chimney or stovepipe once a year; this will catch anything you might miss and give you a professional cleaning if needed.

Be Prepared

3-A, 40-B:C Rechargeable Fire ExtinguisherWhile “an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and these next suggestions won’t prevent a fire, they will help enormously in case something goes wrong:

  • Keep a good fire extinguisher handy. Your local WBC carries several. See the whole selection at
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are up to snuff. See them all here.
  • Newspaper method: if a fire seems imminent, soak newspaper in water and chuck it in. That will stifle it.
  • Make sure you have an escape route planned out and practiced. (Check out our safety page for more info on fire safety.)
  • If a fire happens and you have time, cut all air to it (shut the stove doors and dampers), call 911 and get outside!


Selkirk Installation Planning Guide

Check out Selkirk’s line of chimney products and try out their neat SuperPro online tool to see how to properly install your stove and stovepipe.




See this Ideabook from Houzz on stoves and fireplaces:

Enjoy your fall and winter and stay safe!