On a cold, cold day, there are few things nicer than feeling the warmth from a fire in your fireplace or woodstove. However, without proper maintenance and care, home and cottage owners that utilize wood burning appliances are taking the serious risk of a chimney fire.
Chimney fires occur when there is a buildup of a substance called creosote. Creosote is the residue that sticks to the inner walls of a chimney and is comprised of the substances produced when wood burns, ie smoke, gases, unburned particles, water vapor, etc. Creosote is highly combustible and if the build up is signficiant and the temperature is high enough, the risk of a chimney fire is great.
There are a few things you can do to lessen the chance of a chimney fire. Only burn seasoned (dry) hardwood, have smaller "hotter" fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke (attempting to overload the firebox to get a longer burn time allows for longer periods of smoke in the chimney flue and is more likely to form creosote), install stovepipe thermometers when using a woodstove so that you can monitor the flue temperatures and adjust burning practices if necessary, and most importantly - have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis.
Chimney fires are extremely dangerous and the risks associated with them should not be taken lightly. If you are unsure of proper wood burning practices, please contact a Chimney Cleaning Professional and they will be able to answer all of your questions.