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Chimneys - Communities and Local Government


Chimney fires can have serious results in houses. They are one of the most common types of fire in dwellings and can cause widespread damage. Defective hearths and fireplaces are another common source of fires, especially in old houses. This section contains information to help you plan your campaign including:  statistics on domestic fires where chimneys are the cause of ignition;  the advice that should reach the community on chimney sweeping, carbon monoxide poisoning, and ventilation; and  previously published material from fire and rescue service s and other partners concerned with fire safety that may be useful for you to include in your own campaign, or may contain ideas that will help you. The material is for your guidance only. To make the best use of media interest and resources, you should always follow your own fire and rescue service's press and public relations policies and procedures. You may find it useful to build in chimney fire safety awareness to your schedule as part of the Community Fire Safety Year Planner approach - or you may find that local fire statistics mean that there is a more urgent need to let the community know about the issues. Chimney fires in the UK fell by 1% to 9700 in 2005(Source: Fire Statistics, United Kingdom 2004). However, these fires could possibly have been prevented by regular inspections and sweeping. Clean chimneys also help the environment. They assist the complete combustion of the fuel, which in turn reduces emissions into the atmosphere. 1.1 Advice to the community Some helpful 'do's' and 'don'ts' of chimney fire safety are included below for use in your community fire safety campaigns. 1.2 Preventing chimney fires You should advise people as follows:  Do not light fires using flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin.

 Do not burn paper or rubbish on fires in the grate.  Do not overload the fire with fuel.  Use a spark guard when the fire is unattended to prevent embers setting fire to furnishings or carpets.  Go into the loft occasionally to check the chimney when the fire is alight. Check for smoke from cracks, defective brickwork or mortar joints. 1.3 Chimney sweeping Your campaign should advise people as follows:   Clean chimneys are safer chimneys. Chimney sweeping is important. It helps to prevent chimney fires and reduces the risk of dangerous fume emissions from blocked heating appliances, flueways and chimneys. Regular sweeping and maintenance of chimneys and flues eliminates the build-up of soot from coal-, wood-, oil- and gas-fired systems. It also clears obstructions such as birds' and animals' nests, leaves and debris.


Key things to remind people about:  Chimneys using smokeless fuel should be swept at least once a year;  Smokeless fuels are both naturally occurring (e.g. anthracite) and factory produced (e.g. Coalite, Sunbrite). They burn with a short, blue flame and produce more heat than coal, although they can be difficult to light;  Chimneys using bituminous coal should be swept at least once a year;  Bituminous coal is often referred to as traditional house coal. It burns with a long, yellow flame and lights easily;  Chimneys using wood should be swept quarterly, when in use;  Chimneys using oil should be swept once a year; and,  Chimneys using gas should be swept once a year. 1.4 Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has policy responsibility for gas and CO safety. Go to the HSE Domestic CO Safety website for further information.

Advise people that fuel-burning appliances need air and ventilation to work safely otherwise they may kill people. Heating and cooking appliances fuelled by coal, smokeless fuels, wood, oil and gas can cause CO poisoning if they are poorly installed, incorrectly used or if they are not properly and regularly maintained. When fuel does not burn properly, it produces poisonous CO gas. CO poisoning kills people. It can also damage people’s health permanently. Tell people to look out for the early symptoms of CO poisoning which are: tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, chest pains and nausea. People should make sure they are not at risk from CO poisoning by:     1.5 having appliances installed and properly checked by competent engineers; getting your chimney or flue inspected and swept; not overloading a fire and only burning the fuel it is designed for; and fitting a carbon monoxide detector.

Ventilation Make people aware that air is vital. Heating appliances must be able to 'breathe' in order to function efficiently, whatever type of fuel they burn. To 'breathe', heaters need a constant and sufficient flow of air, so users should make sure the room is not completely airtight. If homes have draught-proofing or double glazing fitted, they may need vents or air bricks in an exterior wall of the room. If they already have the vents or air bricks, people should make sure they are not blocked or covered. Key things to remind people about chimneys:  Blocked chimneys cause toxic fumes to come back into the room – advise people to get them swept every year;  Always have the chimney swept if they are re-using the fireplace;  Make sure new water heaters in a bathroom are fitted to a balanced flue;  Never block the outside grille of the flue;  Never block air bricks or vents;  If an extractor fan or hood is fitted, make sure it doesn't suck toxic fumes back down flues or chimneys;  When double glazing or draught-proofing is fitted, make sure there is still enough air for the heaters in the room; and,

 Have gas- or oil-fired boiler serviced and the flue checked once a year


Chimney facts and figures The latest national figures show a constant reduction in chimney fires over the last decade. In 2004, there were 6,151 chimney fires in England, accounting for 2% of all recorded fires in the Country. You will be able to find specific statistics for your Fire and Rescue Service in Fire Statistics, United Kingdom. The geographical profile of chimney fires remains quite distinctive with obvious major differences between metropolitan and countryside fire and rescue service areas. You can also find regional information on the incidence of chimney fires in Fire Statistics 2004.
Table 0.1 Fires by location and country, 1994-2004
Year UK Total fires 2003 2004 621 442.7 Chimney fires 11.6 9.8 England Total fires 492.3 349.1 Chimney fires 7 6.1

Designing a campaign – useful links Click on the links below for useful information about building a campaign around chimney fires: The National Association of Chimney Sweeps has a network of sweeps throughout the UK. They produce a leaflet on the importance of chimney sweeping and safe flue and chimney terminations. Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps at: Unit 15 Emerald Way Stone Business Park Stone Staffs ST15 0SR Tel: 01785 811732 Fax: 01785 811712 Freefone 0800 833464

Further useful information:  'Keep FIRE in its PLACE'. This is a leaflet produced by West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service dealing specifically with chimney fires and CO poisoning.  Chimney Fire Safety leaflet, produced by Kent Fire and Rescue Service.  Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service leaflet - Domestic Premises - Chimney Fire.  Danger! Fires and heaters need air.  The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (Health and Safety Executive) have policy responsibility for domestic carbon monoxide safety.  For further information on CO poisoning, contact The Solid Fuel Association, Helpline: 0845 601 4406.

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