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Chimney cap fire!

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Lumber-Jack, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Well, not exactly, but sort of. In any case I thought I'd post this for curiosity sake.

    We were going to be out of town Saturday and stay away from home for one night, so we were staying up late Friday getting things ready. Finally got to bed just after midnight, literally just climbed into bed when I heard a loud banging on the door. Who the heck comes calling at the wee hours of the morning???
    Turns out it's the neighbor lady wrapped in her bathrobe (night robe?). She is a little excited and saying their are sparks coming out of my chimney. So I follow her outside and sure enough there is a glowing ember on the chimney cap. She informs me it doesn't look bad now, but a little while ago she saw a trails of "sparks" flying away from the chimney. Now I had just cleaned the chimney not long ago, and I was pretty certain there was no chimney fire, so I didn't get too excited, but I did thank her very much for alerting me and assured her I would deal with it.
    I watched it for a few minutes hoping it would burn itself out, but it was particularly windy that night, and every time the wind picked up it would fan embers on the cap and some sparks would fly off in the wind. Again, I wasn't particularly worried about it, there was a snow cover over the ground everywhere, and I have a metal roof, but for the sake of satisfying the neighbor lady, and making sure that nobody else in the neighborhood might see it and call the fire department, I decide I'd better get up on the roof in the middle of the night and properly inspect and deal with it.
    The metal roof is pretty steep, and the chimney would normally be hard to access but fortunately I have a system for getting up there to clean it, otherwise I'd have been hooped. Still, for some reason the idea of getting dressed and climbing up on the roof just after midnight on a particularly windy night, just wasn't something that appealed to me. But I did it anyway, and on the way up I grabbed a wire brush. When I got there I saw, as expected, that there was just a small amount of creosote around the cap that was "burning". No actual flames, just a burning ember, like the end of a cigarette. I dusted the ember off and that was it. problem solved.
    However, after climbing all the way up there I decided I'd better take the cap off and peak down the chimney. After all, I was already up there. The cap was hardly even warm, so it wasn't a problem to remove, although the only light I was working by was the moonlight and a distant street light, so I was extra careful with the wing nuts. Once I got the cap off I couldn't see very far down the chimney, but from what I could see there was just a light bit of creosote around the very top rim of the chimney. It was too dark to see anything down any further, so I stuck my arm down there to see what I could feel (obviously no chimney fire was going on). I couldn't feel anything significant. I thought about getting a flashlight, but I didn't want to climb down and go back up again. By this time my wife was outside on the ground, so I told her to go open the draft on the stove and get the fire going better. She did, and within a minute there was enough flames down below to illuminate up the 20 ft chimney and I could see pretty good.... Nothin. The only detectable build up was right near the top, and it was less than 1/4 thick.
    So it appears a stray ember from the stove had floated 20 ft up the chimney and momentarily stuck to a bit of creosote on the chimney cap, that was constantly being fanned by the wind, ignited and was sufficient enough to produce a light show significant enough to motivate the neighbor lady to come banging on our door after midnight.
    Don't know if there is any moral to the story, but I though it was worth telling since it was something that doesn't happen all the time.
    BTW. We left Saturday as planned, lit a nice fire before we left, and came home today (Sunday). I immediately went up on the roof again and ran the chimney brush down the chimney, replaced the chimney cap ( because I didn't bother to put it back on in the middle of the night), took my planks down and put everything away. I probably won't go up there again till spring.
    Next chance I get I'll thank the neighbor lady and explain what was going on, and that there was no real danger, but that it is certainly better to be safe than sorry. ;)

    Here's an old video of the chimney (during the day).

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  2. weatherguy

    weatherguy Minister of Fire

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    No pics of the neighbor in her robe?
  3. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    I just don't see how an active coal could be brought up the chimney to cause this unless the stove was filled with some light fuel like cardboard.

    To me, this was a chimney fire, albeit a small one by the sounds.

    If the chimney was cleaned not so long ago, I think I'd be contemplating what the weak link is here that put you into the circumstance.

    Sorry to hear the trouble, but very glad to hear no injuries from the fire and/or the trip up on the roof in the night!

    pen
  4. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    LOL I can get you some pictures if you want, but you'll be dis-a-ppoint-ed. ;)

    Replace the coffee cup below with a cigarette and the caricature below pretty much nails it. ;lol
    [​IMG]
  5. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Don't know if there is anything I could (would) change Pen. We do use paper and sometimes cardboard to light the fire, but I've seen sparks (embers) fly out my chimney long after any "light stuff" has completely disintegrated, so that doesn't seem like that would be the cause, and this particular fire had been burning for hours, but had just recently been re-stoked and loaded with fresh wood for a night time burn. It's often during these re-loads that you can see embers flying out the top of the chimney. The amount of creosote on the cap could not be considered significant, except that it was windy all night the night before too, and I have noticed that when it is windy the creosote on the cap tends to get a little more liquidy. Perhaps the liquidy stuff ignites easier than the dry stuff.
    About the only thing I could do would be to remove the chimney cap altogether. I'm not about to do that. I will keep a better eye on it more when it gets windy. Not so much that I'm worried about it starting a fire somewhere, but I don't want the neighbors to get excited.
  6. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    What stove are you running? I can't recall.

    pen
  7. volvo9

    volvo9 New Member

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    That's you in that video!! I watched that quite a while ago while messing around on youtube, haven't posted here yet, but now is good as any!

    Interesting story though, glad it ended without issue.

    A few years ago before I had an insert in my fireplace, I was having a few nice large fires a week (irritated at the inneficiency the whole time). When I was inspecting the cold chimney one day I decided to take my lighter to the fluffy creosote buildup and see how flammable it really was. I never got much out of it, but could get some sparks to come to life and move around like worms for a bit before going out. Seems like something similar happened in your cap, and the wind really got it going and looking worse than it was.
  8. ohlongarm

    ohlongarm Minister of Fire

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    I had the exact scenario about a month ago the cap was literally on fire for a short time.Next day I went on the roof and looked down the chimney with a 1 million candlepower spotlight,clean as a whistle,the cap was encrusted with creosote scraped it off with a wire brush and good to go,don't ask me what happened but no big deal.
  9. charly

    charly Guest

    That faster then the Soot Eater;lol Nice set up!
  10. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Pen I have a Regency F2400 in the house.
    I should mention that 99% of the time I'm burning lodgepole pine, and the bark on that stuff tends to snap crackle and pop for a while til it burns off. It's probably worse for sending up sparks than cardboard.
    While on the subject of sparks coming out chimneys, I have an old Lopi smoke dragon in the shop that has a much shorter chimney, when that thing gets a fresh load of wood it often has a much greater display of sparks than the house stove, due to it's shorter chimney.

    Welcome to the forum Volvo.
    Yeah the wind was the big factor here. Hard to say for sure, but my guess is the cap never even would have been able to ignite without it. It definitely went from a benign ember when I first saw it, to a disconcerting little comet tail when ever a strong gust came through and fanned it with oxygen.
  11. simple.serf

    simple.serf Feeling the Heat

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    I had something similar happen earlier this week. I let the stack temp get too hot and had the cap do some strange things. I got up 2 hrs early on a workday and checked/cleaned the chimney and found that everything looked good, but it did startle me a bit!
  12. savageactor7

    savageactor7 Minister of Fire

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    Good for the neighbor in giving you a heads up. Also most excellent and efficient employ of roof jacks to safely clean the chimney.

    I always blame the cap.
    granpajohn and Lumber-Jack like this.
  13. ArsenalDon

    ArsenalDon Minister of Fire

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    We responded (FD Volunteer) to a very similar fire a few weeks ago. Flue was not gunked up but the cap was, when we arrived it looked exactly as you describe yours....solution was the same, brush it clean and good to go....cept we told her to get a sweep out....no reason for us to take on the liability of saying it was good to go.
  14. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Out of curiosity Don, who called the fire department in that case? The woman herself, or one of her neighbors?

    With all the people piping up here it sounds like this may be a fairly common occurrence.
  15. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Thanks Savageactor, the old adage is true, "necessity is the mother of all invention", and it was necessary for me to be able to inspect the top of my chimney once in a while, so making those jacks and permanently attaching them to the roof, seemed like the best (only?) way.
  16. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    My cap hardly ever has anything on it. It's definitely not shiny steel anymore, but never any accumulation to speak of. It's been 2 months since I cleaned, and if I scraped every last bit out of it I might have 2 tablespoons worth. Are other folks getting much more on a regular basis? For the folks who have had this happen, how dirty is that cap?

    So if some folks are getting more buildup and that is causing the issue, is it the cap itself causing the build-up, something about the chimney setup that makes it more likely to ignite even a small amount in the cap, something about the fuel, about loading cycles, air adjustments, temps run, etc, etc ?

    I just don't believe looking at this situation as being normal is the appropriate angle to take.

    I know if I had it happen, I'd be very unhappy.

    pen
    Lumber-Jack likes this.
  17. tfdchief

    tfdchief Minister of Fire

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    Of course everyone knows I have both an old pre-EPA and an EPA stove. Never have anything on the EPA cap except light black soot. A little more on the old stove cap. I used to get a lot of build up on the old cap until I direct connected the stove to a stainless steel liner. Before that, I just couldn't keep enough heat in the flue to keep the cap clean.
  18. ArsenalDon

    ArsenalDon Minister of Fire

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    She did....went outside to get some wood and noticed sparks
  19. ArsenalDon

    ArsenalDon Minister of Fire

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    Great example. To add...I have EPA stove, my neighbor has pre EPA. We cut our wood together and both burn 24/7. He drips creosote, I just get a fluffy ash.
  20. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Pen I like your thinking, I'd like a solution if there is one, one other than just removing the cap altogether.

    Steve my experience is quite the opposite. I have the exact same cap on a chimney in my shop, but it's connected to an old Lopi smoke dragon, and I haven't had the problem of creosote build up on that cap. Mind you, the cap may be the same, but the chimney is a lot shorter, and I simply don't use the stove nearly as much. That being said, it's and old smoke dragon and when I do use it I often strive to get long burns in the only way you can with old smoke dragons, and that is to choke the heck out of it ( lots of smoke).
  21. tfdchief

    tfdchief Minister of Fire

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    I think that often,"chimney is a lot shorter," that really has a lot to do with it if you burn at good temps. How you you are not getting build up on your shop stove, choking it down, I have no idea.....seems like all the ingredients would be there......probably that you simply don't burn it enough to notice much build up.
    Lumber-Jack likes this.
  22. etiger2007

    etiger2007 Minister of Fire

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    Good story, I tend to always look at my cap when Im getting in the car or doing something outside. This is just another reason to be careful. Kudos to the neighbor for letting you know.
  23. corey21

    corey21 Minister of Fire

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    Glad every thing was OK. I have never had problem with my cap yet.
  24. Lumber-Jack

    Lumber-Jack Minister of Fire

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    Like you said, "lots of ingredients", the shorter chimney really seems to be the main one. Although I choke that shop stove down a lot, I suspect higher flue temps (especially near the top), is the reason I don't get more build up. The baffle in the EPA stove, in the house, contains a lot of the active flames, where as in the old smoke dragon the flames have a straight up the flue route, and I'll bet when I have that thing burning wide open I'm sure that I'm getting flames and secondary burns, with all that un-burned smoke, going on half way up the flue or more. Hmmm? I wonder if that is considered a chimney fire???

    Seriously though, when ever I clean the house flue I notice that all the creosote build up, and I mean all of it, happens on the top 5 ft or less, where it is most exposed to the cool outside air. If I was to lop off that last 5 ft I would probably solve any creosote problems, including the cap. Of course if I did that it would no longer meet code....
    tfdchief likes this.
  25. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Lots of unburnt wood gases (smoke) exiting the chimney at under 250F is a guarantee for creosote buildup. Instead of smoldering, burn shorter hotter fires.
    etiger2007 likes this.

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