Rachael Ray's Chimney Fire

xman23

Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
2,136
Lackawaxen PA
I believe it was in August I heard Rachael Rays house in upstate NY burned. My wife recorded her show today. Rachael explained how she lit a fire in the fire place. Soon after a ATV rider saw the roof on fire. It was a chimney creosote fire. They said chunks of burning creosote caught the roof on fire. The house is a large timber frame, cathedral ceiling chalet, about 13 years old. I don't what the roof material was, I wonder if it was wood.

She went on to say they have the chimney cleaned twice a year. They didn't show any masonry chimney, so I suspect it might have been a zero clearance, with a class A chimney.

I'm thinking a bad installation with clearance issues. Maybe chimney bends that make cleaning difficult. Or maybe cleaning that never happened. My wife is in a panic, as I clean once a year.

What do you guys think?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
84,212
South Puget Sound, WA

Bushels20

Feeling the Heat
May 20, 2018
417
OH
I’m a large loss insurance adjuster and have been for about 10 years. If I had a dime for every house fire I’ve inspected/investigated after the chimney had “just been cleaned”.....

Burn truly seasoned firewood (below 20% moisture content) and clean your liner/chimney (at least) annually and you will be just fine. The most important being the seasoned firewood, in my opinion.
 

ctyankee

New Member
Oct 25, 2019
37
connecticut
Sounds like the build was junk. What a surprise! A metal flue up through 2 x 4s. She's on record as saying cleaned twice a year. I guess if lying she's in "trouble." I doubt she's out scrounging for green wood to throw in the fireplace.
 

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
1,001
Palmyra, WI
I heard Rachael Rays house in upstate NY burned. My wife recorded her show today. Rachael explained how she lit a fire in the fire place.
Ok, you can stop there.
On second thought that's kind of mean.
A neighbor down the road did something similar - existing fireplace, using it as if it's meant to be, regardless of whether the instal was precisely known, and then, promptly burned the place down.

Somewhere I read that a typical 6" round flue, could be plugged solid from creosote, in 72hours, by burning wet wood at a very low temperature.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
22,130
central pa
Sounds like the build was junk. What a surprise! A metal flue up through 2 x 4s. She's on record as saying cleaned twice a year. I guess if lying she's in "trouble." I doubt she's out scrounging for green wood to throw in the fireplace.
No but she probably buys wood from someone who tells her it is seasoned. And why would she be in trouble?
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
5,131
07462
Type of fireplace is a masonry stove for cooking pizza's & breads, had an open front with a plug door when not in use, not sure about the chimney, could be like some masonry heaters, all masonry then to a metal chimney aft of the stove.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,496
Northern NH
The other thing to take into account was if the building was ever inspected? Up in my area which has a lot of vacation homes many of the rural towns have little or no building inspection.These are not cheap places, 300K on up. There was a high end log cabin dealer that made his living building really good looking vacation homes in towns that had little or no inspection and he had the reputation of making places look good but skipping on details. The locals knew to avoid him and he stayed away from the towns with legit inspectors. His customers tended to be affluent out of state folks who assumed someone was looking out for their interests when the place got built. The contractor worked under an LLC and all his assets were in his wifes name. He was a salesman, meet him the first time and he had all the right answers and was your best friend. He was not alone. When I was living in VT I saw a very similar contractor building timber frame summer places and ski lodges in rural towns with no real inspections. Building permits were mostly issued so that the town could tax the properties. Many of these towns had no full time employees, just a contractor to plow the roads , some elected slelectman and a part time town clerk. They built a nice looking timber frame structure with all the right looking details but they were clueless on basic building concepts.

My town has not had a legit building inpector for 20 plus years. For awhile they just had the person who took the permit out sign a form that they were responsible to build to and comply with all known codes. The town now has a part time retired state trooper as a building inspector that is shared with at least one other town. A town to the north had a retired machinist. The International Building Code (IBC) is not casual reading and is not something you can just buy a copy, pick up and use without a lot of background. The LDS church built a new church in a rural town nearby about 20 years ago with local contractors. The work was bid out and contractors were selected. The church brought in their own inspector to ensure compliance with their specs and codes and most of the contractors lost their shirts because they needed to replace materials and redo work that they had been getting away with it for years. Our town on paper requires buildings to be built with more than double the ground snow load than most of the state. That means very heavy duty roof structure, usually double the rafters or deeper beams. This has been in place for 20 plus years but few if any homes are being built to that spec. No one locally seems to care, its just buyer beware.

Folks from more populated areas usually only hear about building inspectors and code officials from contractors who get caught trying to save a buck skipping code or a clueless homeowner doing a DIY. Sure there can be good and bad inspectors but ultimately they are trying to make sure any new buildings or remodeling meets the minimum standards of the code.

My guess is some subcontractor took a shortcut installing the fireplaces and good luck collecting a dime from anyone.
 

trueg50

Member
Dec 19, 2014
17
VT
I agree peakbagger, up here in VT the lack of permitting and inspections can be quite an issue.

My parents house had a fire from a cracked chimney (oil furnace), the house was gutted to the studs and rebuilt. Insurance said essentially "there is no inspector for the town so we don't need to bring the house to current of code, just restore to original state". The house was early 70's so it wasn't too far out of code but they had to pay extra for attic insulation (insurance used basic R33 or less instead of code >R49) and a few other things.

I think Burlington VT might have inspectors, but outside of that VT doesn't really have any inspectors.
 

GinaC

New Member
Jan 31, 2020
26
Newport, VT
"Cleaned twice a year" is suspect to me. What and why are you burning if you have to do that?!
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
22,130
central pa
"Cleaned twice a year" is suspect to me. What and why are you burning if you have to do that?!
Probably wet wood. But if it is an open fireplace they do not burn cleanly. So if used allot twice a year is not unheard of we clean a few twice. And others that should be cleaned twice.
 

ctyankee

New Member
Oct 25, 2019
37
connecticut
If in fact the chimney was cleaned twice a year by a professional is the responsibility/liability for the fire on the chimney sweep?
 

ctyankee

New Member
Oct 25, 2019
37
connecticut
I appreciate the reply. But obviously the twice annual cleaning was probably incompetent. I doubt they're burning constant fires in the fireplace. But even if they were -- what's the point of paying for twice annual chimney cleanings if your house is going to burn down anyway?
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
4,550
Downeast Maine
I appreciate the reply. But obviously the twice annual cleaning was probably incompetent. I doubt they're burning constant fires in the fireplace. But even if they were -- what's the point of paying for twice annual chimney cleanings if your house is going to burn down anyway?
I laughed out oud, like seriously just laughed to an empty room. Great post.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
22,130
central pa
I appreciate the reply. But obviously the twice annual cleaning was probably incompetent. I doubt they're burning constant fires in the fireplace. But even if they were -- what's the point of paying for twice annual chimney cleanings if your house is going to burn down anyway?
We can be held liable for things missed in inspections but not for fires related to a chimney unless it could be proven a sweep didn't clean a chimney when payed to do so. We have one that we clean twice a year and each time we take out at least 5 gals of creosote. And one we take 25 to 30 gals out of yearly. We have tried to teach each customer how to season wood and burn correctly. But there is only so much we can do.
 

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
1,001
Palmyra, WI
Creosote can accumulate in a matter of minutes. Far less than 6mo. I know, because I've seen it happen - and learned from it. Condensing creosote on a cold pipe at startup can drain back and out the back of the stove here. So get the flue temps up quickly, and burn dry wood to keep them there. On a masonry chimney it would be hard to witness that. Very easy there to develope a mess and not know it. To me, cleaning twice a year would be more of a spot check to verify things are being done right, not to clean up after bad habits.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,496
Northern NH
My neighbor got a used Tarm Gasifier years ago.It was installed without storage. They are a typical family where everyone heads off for the day after a cold morning when they want heat. In shoulder season It warms up in the AM and by the time they get home the house is warm. Maybe they fire off the Tarm in the late evening and go to bed. If its a clear night radiational cooling drops the temp of the masonry fireplace and stack to outdoor temps. The Tarm of course heats the house up and has no where to get rid of the heat so the thermostatic air damper closes and the fire smoulders for few hours with half dry wood. He fires it up in the AM and then after they have left the heat demand drops. He has a large granite fieldstone fireplace that is built into the end wall of his house. The basement flue is routed in the the sidewall of the large fireplace firebox. So this is an external chimney that is going to be cold most of the time (and a major heat sink to the house. His concept of dry firewood( as are many of neighbors) is buy the wood in late spring, split it up then stack it with no top cover for fall burning. The first year he had the Tarm, I think the fire department got called twice for chimney fires. So the neighbor bought a ladder and started cleaning the flue monthly. Eventually he tied the ladder to the chimney to make it easier to get up there. The weather can get nasty in Northern NH and life can get busy so the cleanings may get skipped. He went a couple of years with occasional chimney fires. At some point he had one that was bad enough that the tile cracked so he put in a insulated SS liner. My guess is whomever installed it told him that he would not need to clean it as often. I think it lasted two winters and reportedly melted the liner out. He burns around 8 cords a year.

So twice yearly cleanings with an external chimney fireplace may not be enough if the wood is not seasoned and the operation is intermittent. FIreplaces may not have a thermostatic air damper but few are run at full output and usually are lit for "mood". That means a small fire running for several hours without the chance to heat the stack up enough to drive off the creosote. formed during light off.

BTW, I burn dry wood and burn hot with my boiler with storage. I have an interior chimney with only the top of the chimney peaking out net to the ridgepole. I have only cleaned the chimney twice in 30 years. I inspect it yearly and remove some fly ash from the clean out but that is about it. I am not advocating most people can do what I do but it comes down to there are design issues that are inherent with the installation like massive masonry construction installed outdoors and then things that are controllable by the homeowner.
 

xman23

Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
2,136
Lackawaxen PA
We can be held liable for things missed in inspections but not for fires related to a chimney unless it could be proven a sweep didn't clean a chimney when payed to do so. We have one that we clean twice a year and each time we take out at least 5 gals of creosote. And one we take 25 to 30 gals out of yearly. We have tried to teach each customer how to season wood and burn correctly. But there is only so much we can do.

Wow, whats wrong with it, that could create gallons of anything in a chimney in one year? Is it bends in the chimney? All from what they are burning? What does the material look like that you get out? I think you should do what ever you can to prevent them from using it.

I get 4-6, 8 ounce cups every year out of 18' chimney. It's all dry dark powdery, some small chips. Wish I could make it better but It's been the norm for years. That said the first year, with oak wood from the lot clearing, the cap was plugged in a month. For three years the glass was blacked every fire. Those years I got almost twice as much as I do now and much bigger chips.
 

Stinkpickle

Feeling the Heat
Jan 13, 2015
495
Iowa
Type of fireplace is a masonry stove for cooking pizza's & breads, had an open front with a plug door when not in use, not sure about the chimney, could be like some masonry heaters, all masonry then to a metal chimney aft of the stove.
That makes sense. It’s something she would probably have.
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
22,130
central pa
Wow, whats wrong with it, that could create gallons of anything in a chimney in one year? Is it bends in the chimney? All from what they are burning? What does the material look like that you get out? I think you should do what ever you can to prevent them from using it.

I get 4-6, 8 ounce cups every year out of 18' chimney. It's all dry dark powdery, some small chips. Wish I could make it better but It's been the norm for years. That said the first year, with oak wood from the lot clearing, the cap was plugged in a month. For three years the glass was blacked every fire. Those years I got almost twice as much as I do now and much bigger chips.
I have no power at all to stop anyone from using their chimney. And I have absolutely no desire to have that power. The 25 to 30 gals is out of s chimney with a boiler in it. Burning wet wood. But really 5 gals is fairly common even with more modern stoves.
 

xman23

Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
2,136
Lackawaxen PA
I have no power at all to stop anyone from using their chimney. And I have absolutely no desire to have that power. The 25 to 30 gals is out of s chimney with a boiler in it. Burning wet wood. But really 5 gals is fairly common even with more modern stoves.
Understood, your a pro, and know your industry. Those wood boiler are a different animal. I will say you may not have the authority to stop a dangerous situation. But I would document the condition and alert the owner. When something happens you are the pro. You can a will be dragged in.