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.
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.