Chimney fires - beware

Last week we had a chimney fire - these seem quite prevelent in France and we already know several people who have had them.

We had been extra careful with our chimney (from a wood-burning stove) having had it swept twice by a reputable sweep this winter, as one lot of wood we had purchased was not properly seasoned. It still caught fire and had it not been for the swift actions of my husband putting salt on the fire in the wood-burner, it could have been disastrous.

We are now going through an insurance claim for a new carpet (ruined by hot tar which came down the chimney as the firemen took the metal flue off) and a new flue liner. Our insurance company made it clear that had we not got a certificate for the clean (which we keep in a fire-proof safe!) we would not receive any insurance monies. We know of one couple who lost everything as their chimney fire got out of control, yet only received c €6000 to cover contents and a rebuild. A house over the road burned down completely following a chimney fire, as did one in the next village.

The other point is it took 25 minutes for the fire brigade to arrive (we live about a 10 minute drive from the fire station) and this is quite the norm, apparently. We were fortunate in that our firemen were relatively 'kind' to the property and the fire was under control when they arrived, but we have heard of a lot of damage done (including to our insurance broker's home!) in an effort to put a bigger fire out. The pompiers, were in fact marvellous and very thorough using thermal imaging to ensure all of the hotspots had been damped down.

What did we learn?

We will never leave the fire 'banked up' over night or if we go out again as if it had caught in the night, the house would have gone up and probably us in it.

Continue to keep the chimney sweeping certificate in a fire proof safe (and a copy on Goodle Drive)

Photograph everything in the house and keep in dropbox or Google Drive.

Be aware that on a bank holiday you will not get hold of the insurance company and the fire brigade may have fewer staff on call.

We can have a better flue liner installed and as it is in a larger chimney have 'glass' beads packed around it to insulate the fabric of the house from catching fire if the chimney goes up again.

Don't burn bad logs and be mindful that damp air causes more tar in the chimney.

Hi. My wife and I moved over full time in July and we have inherited a Deville Chambord burner. It has a huge Chimney with a 'moderator' installed just above the unit. It's very unsightly and no matter who I ask I cannot get an explanation as to what it does.

A couple of times recently we had a big 'pooph' and the door of the moderator went fully open. I noted that there were lots of soot particles burning in the chimney which I assumed wasn't good. I also noted that the door of the moderator had a lot, and I do mean a lot of tar on it so I have removed from the metal housing and cleaned all the tar off with a chemical solution. Now it swings freely and doesn't stick.

During the renovation we have been 'ripping' out many old timbers including ancient door frames and ceiling joists. All riddled with woodworm (amazing that Termites are measured but not woodworm). We have been burning this quite happily but reading here we may have been creating a problem all because we are unaware.

Websites give conflicting advice. Even here one response says the tar burner bricks are okay and another response say's they are not.

Hi. I note you speak of an insert. We have inherited a Deville burner and the chimney is huge with a 'moderator' installed. Would this be the 'insert' you speak of?

I am trying to find out just exactly what this 'moderator' does. It has 4 settings and no matter which number it's on doesn't appear to make a blind bit of difference.

Give the french another 10-20 years and it will be "required" then it will have to be done by some short date and there will be panic like breathalisers or pool alarms......What are they affraid of, the vermiculite catching fire!

Latest update. Insurance company would not approve the use of vermiculite or other products between the flue and large chimney as they are not approved by all relevant French bodies (however, the company which quoted, that is a specialist in installation, showed us evidence that they are, hey ho!). We are going to have the chimney 'debistraged' (franglais) to completely clean it before the new flue goes in. Additionally, the fact that we have had new double glazed windows in the room may have contributed to the lack of oxygen reaching the woodburner, hence we are also having an airbrick installed in the back wall of the chimney, to the outside. Thanks for all the info and pointers.

The black square is a pic of me. Before the shower !

Hi Frances. Make sure that the company doing the work, Clean the chimney well. Maybe ask for debistrage if possible. Also make sure that the closure plate at the bottom is capable of holding up the beads. Got a lovely pic of a wood burner that was swamped by vermiculite because the guy that fitted it used plasterboard and the chimney leaked.

Hi Steve - no the fire was not banked up and the door was closed. The company who we have replcing the damaged flue liner (through our insurance) are now recommending that as well as the new flue liner, as the chimney is so large, it is to be packed with 'glass' type beads to insulate the structure from any potential future damage - apparently this is a relatively new process.

We checked our insurance contract and it is quite clear with ours (AXA) that if a certificate is not supplied they will not pay up

Interesting point about the Godin John as many of them are 'multifuel' and therefore not as efficient as a bespoke log burner.

HI Norman - all good points. However, the chimney sweep we use is a reputable one and have used him for years, as have our neighbours - it was just a case of 'bad luck' and some of the reasons I stated earlier.

hi John,

Of course you can sweep your chimney yourself, but if you get a fire, you will be asked to prove that you behaved as "bon pere de famille) and thus that you swept your chimney.there is no best proof that exhibiting the receipt, the invoice or getting a copy of the bankcheck.

otherwise the loss adjuster of yourinsurance company may decide that you did not prove a good behavior. this (for some insurance contracts) can induce a penalty on the insurance indemnity : 30% to 50%

thus your insurer gave you a bad advice.

That would be great Steve. And any of a profile photo of your good self too please? We like to see our chimney sweeps here on SFN!!

No probs Catherine. will do a larger piece on this subject as soon as poss.


Thanks Steve - useful info!

Yes Dominic. They do change the structure of the deposits making them easier to remove. Last year I had a rather difficult chimney to clean, it was coated with shiny tar and we didn`t get much off. Asked the client to burn a couple of buches over the next couple of days and I would return. Much more came off the second visit. The best thing to do with the ones with a certificate on the box is throw the box in the fire as well. there are regulations (Surprise) governing the cleaning of chimneys. They state that the chimney MUST be cleaned mechanically.

If you do intend to use them and have a stainless steel flue then make sure that the bouche does not contain chlore. This will react with the moisture in the flue and corrode the flue.


Frances you were very lucky.

Looking at the pic of the glowing flue pipe I would put it in the temperature range of about 700° C. dull to cherry red.

Most flue pipes work in the range of 450°C. The double skin flexi liners are tested to 1000°C. for 30 mins.

One thing that does occur to me is the fact that the flue pipe is glowing, this signifies that the heat source is in or below the pipe ie. the wood burner. Was it banked up and the door came open ?

The practice of banking up a wood burner overnight is not to be recommended due to the fact that even though the wood will burn it will not have enough oxygen to burn completely. This allows tars to evaporate and re condense in the chimney leaving flammable deposits that build up over time.

Their are 3 variables to a fire. 1. fuel. 2. heat. 3. oxygen. take one or more away and the fire will go out. I would seriously recommend checking the operation of the air controls and also the rope seals around the door.

This year is turning out to be a rather long burning season and flue pipes will have more deposits than usual. also many people are getting to the bottom of the wood pile and are burning damp wood which does not burn efficiently. Also be careful with the type of wood burnt, resinous woods burn hot and quick.

As regards the famous "bouche de ramonage" Yes they do change the structure of the deposits in the chimney and make them easier to remove. but they are NOT a substitute for mechanical cleaning.

My wife and I run a chimney cleaning and flue fitting service in the centre region of France. We have over 25 years experience in this type of work. any questions regarding chimney/flue pipes please mail me. I will be more than happy to answer any questions regarding the safety of your installation.

I am so glad that it wasn`t worse for you.

This reply is not meant to be an advertisement for our services. Just to point out a few facts on safety.

Much much safer to buy a fire extinguisher than play around with javel which will liberate chlorine gas just like they used in the kill people. Halon (chlorine is a halon) has been banned in fire extinguishers for years.

I asked our insurers if it was ok for me to sweep the chimney rather than the ramoneur and they said yes provided I note the date it was done. Not being rocket science I have done this for the last 5 years and I inspect it all the way to the top with my inspection camera.

If all these fires have occured despite the local ramoneur or ramoneurs having carried out the task professionally then the common denominator has to be something else.

Buy a log dampness meter to make sure the water content is below 20%. Get rid of those pretty looking but pretty inefficent old log burners like Goddin etc and buy something better. You'll save on logs, and you may save your house!


Why are you saying "And BTW never use the sweeping burning logs sometimes sold to "sweep" chimneys " ?

The ones I have used say they are for use to soften the deposits & mechanical sweeping is necesssary after several days. What about the ones which have a certificate to send to ones insurance co.? They all state they are ok for chimney liners.

The professional view would be appreciated.