January 24, 2023

Fires belong in your fireplace, not the chimney.  Yet, when conditions are right, chimney fires not only cause damage to your home but put your family’s lives at risk.  

Most chimney fires start inside the flue where there’s either creosote buildup or a flue blockage. As heat from the fire reaches these flammable materials, the creosote or blockage catches fire, starting a chimney fire. 

There are two types of chimney fires: fast-burning or slow-burning. 

Fast-burning chimney fires are extremely obvious

A fast-burning chimney fire can be characterized by a loud crackling, popping or roaring sound which can resemble the noise of a nearby freight train. Often, there are tons of dense, thick smoke coming into the fireplace or from the top of the chimney.  Additionally, flames may be seen coming out of the top of the chimney.  Finally, there is typically a strong, intense odor.

Slow burning fires are equally destructive but less obvious

Chimney fires aren’t always the big raging fires that you see hyped up on TV shows or in the media.  Often people do not even realize they’ve had a chimney fire.  Instead, they notice the chimney isn’t working as well as it used to, a strong odor coming from the fireplace, and/or find out during their annual chimney service.  

Here are some signs you’ve had a chimney fire:

  • Fluffy, gray, “ashy”, or “honeycombed” creosote 
  • Warped or discolored metal components 
  • Cracked or damaged flue tiles, or pieces missing from flue tiles 
  • Heat-damaged roof structures (such as television antennas, shingles, or vents) near the chimney
  • Pieces of creosote found outside the chimney, on the roof or ground, or in the fireplace 
  • Cracks in the exterior masonry of the chimney 
  • Signs of smoke coming through the sides of the chimney

If you see any of these signs of a chimney fire, it’s best to contact a Potomac Services, the Chimney Safety Guys at 703-444-5155 (Norther VA) and 540-685-1007 (Roanoke).