On the first day of winter, Victorian firefighters are urging residents to keep themselves safe by checking and maintaining their fireplaces, chimneys, fireboxes and flues.
As the cold takes hold each year, the Victorian fire services see a large number of chimney fires from both fireplaces and wood heaters.
In 2020, Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) responded to 192 chimney fires, more than half of which (104) occurred during the winter months.
CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said winter is the perfect time to curl up in front of a warm fire, and with a few small tips Victorians could enjoy the activity safely.
“Chimney fires can quickly turn into house fires so the few minutes spent now could be one of the most important fire safety actions you take this season,” he said.
CO Heffernan urged Victorian households to have chimneys professionally cleaned annually to avoid the build-up of creosote – a highly flammable black tar-like residue – that could clog chimneys.
“Creosote is not only caused by general use, but it can also build up quicker if you are using incorrect fuels, such as green wood or treated timbers, so make sure you only burn dry, clean wood to reduce the risk of fire starting from a fireplace or wood heater,” he said.
“Residents could also use a torch to check for creosote build-up or obstructions, and we urge everyone to always extinguish their fire before going to bed or leaving the house,” CO Heffernan said.
Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Block said it is also important to ensure gas heaters are being used safely and correctly. He urged Victorians to have their gas heaters inspected and serviced by a qualified technician every two years to avoid a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
“The colder months are some of the riskiest times of the year for fires in the home, and most of these fires can be prevented,” Commissioner Block said.
“Taking a few moments to check your heaters and fireplaces before winter sets in could mean the difference between life and death for your family.
“It’ important to remember that no matter the season, having interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms and living areas can provide vital seconds to allow you and your family to escape in case of a fire,” Commissioner Block said.
Chimney and heating tips
- Have chimneys cleaned annually and gas heaters inspected and serviced every two years.
- A secure guard or fireproof screen should always be used to prevent sparks and wood from falling out of the fireplace and causing a fire or burn injury.
- Never dry clothes or have flammable items such as curtains close to a heater or open fire – make sure they are positioned at least one metre away and constantly monitored to reduce risk of a fire.
- Children and pets must be supervised near all types of heating. Maintain a safe distance between children and heating.
- Always extinguish any open flames, and turn off heaters before going to bed or leaving the house.