Wildfire Awareness Begins in Winter

Wanting to get some fresh air, we decided to go for a walk with the dogs in the neighborhood. Though it was getting dark, we had flashlights and sturdy winter boots. Suddenly, an orange glow permeated the dusky sky. Orange flames shot above the roof of the house just down the road.

What was going on?

We walked quickly to get a better look. The fire was coming out the top of the chimney, spraying embers over the top of the roof. Knowing how dangerous this was, we knew we needed to act. Should we call 911? We raced to the front door, frantically knocking. A man opened, looking at us with trepidation. After all, it’s pretty unusual to get a knock on the door living in a rural area.

“There’s a fire coming out your chimney” we blurted out.

“What?”

He came out into the driveway, looking up. “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know. I’ll put out the fire in the wood stove right now.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing disaster had been averted. What would have happened had we not been walking by? It literally could have started a wildfire that would have threatened the whole neighborhood.

Every year I look forward to winter. Being an avid skier, it’s easy to understand why. But as a mountain resident, I also look forward to taking a break from wildfire season. Winter brings cold weather and snow — what could go wrong? Like many wildfires that occur in summer, most wildfire that occur in winter months are human caused. Often it just comes from a lapse in judgment and can easily be avoided.

Ideally, check your wood stove or pellet stove before winter begins to make sure everything is working correctly. Frequent use of your wood stove can result in creosote building up in your chimney. Creosote is highly combustible. When it builds up and is subjected to high heat, it can result in a chimney fire. By getting your chimney cleaned each year, you can avoid this dangerous situation.

Another potential watch-out situation comes from your wood stove or pellet stove. Two fires were started this winter, when homeowners emptied stove ash outside. You will need to empty the ash from your stove on a regular basis. Hot ash can smolder and ignite organic debris like pine needles, starting a fire. If the ash is dumped too close to the side of your house or other structure, it could even ignite the siding of the house. A simple fix is to have a metal container, like an ash bucket, to put your hot ashes into. This will allow the ash to sufficiently cool before you dispose of it.

Some other wildfire watch-outs are being mindful of downed trees and limbs. During a windy winter, it’s common to get a lot of woody debris coming down. The Olde Stage Fire of January, 2009 started when downed trees ignited a power line. Call 911 if you see this kind of situation so firefighters can respond quickly.

Our safety as a county and a community depends upon all of us. By being proactive about our responsibility as homeowners, we can keep ourselves and our neighbors safe during the winter months.

13 replies added

  1. Mark Foreman January 4, 2021 Reply

    And don’t forget to put that can of ashes outside on a stone or other non-combustable surface. Those long-burning coals in the ashes are producing deadly carbon monoxide gas that will build up in an enclosed room. Please keep your ash-can outside and install CO detectors if you haven’t already.

  2. Jeni January 5, 2021 Reply

    Years ago we learned the hard way that the hot embers that we had put into a metal bucket & taken outside are still simmering hot for days. Don’t leave your metal bucket on your wooden deck. Had another experience with a metal bucket of embers that we thought had cooled for days & dumped it in the garden. 2 days later came home & saw flames. Got super lucky twice & caught it before disaster

    • Leslie Brodhead January 5, 2021 Reply

      Thanks for the comment. Like a campfire, stove ashes can stay hot for quite a long time. Glad to hear you averted disaster!

  3. Jim Paschis January 5, 2021 Reply

    And the outside ash bucket should have a fixed lid so if tipped by our winds (measured at 85 mph on the anemometer two weeks ago) it will still hold the contents. Those contents should be retained for at least three days before dumping.

    • Leslie Brodhead January 5, 2021 Reply

      Yes, ash containers or buckets need a lid that fits tight to the container. Great point!

  4. Chris Moore January 6, 2021 Reply

    Is it safe to use an indoor fireplace when there are winds? At what windspeed should be not have a fire? (We did have a chimneysweep clean out our chimney toward the end of last winter.)

    • Leslie Brodhead January 6, 2021 Reply

      Chris, winters can be very windy here, and I don’t think that should be your main concern for using your indoor fireplace. More important is the condition of your chimney and the condition of your roof. You’ve already had your chimney cleaned, which is great. Make sure your roof has no gaps or missing shingles, where embers could land and potentially ignite.

  5. Susan F January 6, 2021 Reply

    These posts are great reminders. Please keep them coming!

  6. Gandasari Win January 6, 2021 Reply

    A few years ago, we put down an out door fire. We tought it was completely extinguished, until a few hours later the fire startred a few yards away. Apparently the ground is covered with leave debris and it smoldered. Thus always extinguish the fire by stirring the soil to make sure that it is not smoldering.

    • Leslie Brodhead January 7, 2021 Reply

      Yes, outdoor fires need to be completely out, which means dousing with water and making sure all embers and ashes are cold to the touch.

  7. Laurie Meyers January 9, 2021 Reply

    We have metal ash bucket stored outdoors on a concrete pad or gravel. When available we cover the new ashes with a cover of snow.

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