COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missourians planning to heat their homes with wood to offset soaring heating oil and natural gas prices should check their chimneys now, said a University of Missouri safety specialist.

Heating oil users will pay 36 percent more on average than last year. Homeowners with natural gas face a 24-percent increase, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Safety precautions should be taken to prevent the threat of chimney fires," said Karen Funkenbusch.

She suggests scheduling a periodic chimney cleaning to eliminate any creosote, the highly combustible byproduct given off when wood burns. When ignited, creosote can cause destructive chimney fires.

You can clean your own chimney using a wire chimney brush, but Funkenbusch warns that this is hard, dirty work. Professional chimney cleaning services are available across Missouri.

In addition to cleaning, there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of chimney fires, she said.

  • Use seasoned wood, which has a lower moisture content and therefore produces less smoke and burns more efficiently.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees in an indoor fireplace. They could spark a chimney fire.
  • Do not use water on an extremely hot chimney fire. Quick cooling can crack the tile lining or warp a metal chimney.
  • After a chimney fire, replace prefabricated metal chimneys. The seams and joints on the lining may have buckled.
  • Repair cracks or holes in older masonry flues. Sparks could get to the framework surrounding the chimney through these defects and ignite a house fire.

If you do have a chimney fire, get everyone out of the house, then call the fire department. If there is a fire in the stove box or fireplace box, extinguish it with a dry-chemical extinguisher.

For more information, see MU Extension guide G1735, “Cleaning Stovepipes and Chimneys,” available online.

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