Wichita fire official: Fire risks higher this time of year

For many people, this is the time of year to put another log on the fire or light a candle.

But there are risks.

Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis cited three recent fires: $60,000 in damage to a home on North Ash where the fireplace was a possible cause; $10,000 in damage to a home on Cranbrook Circle where ashes weren't safely discarded; $30,000 in damage to a home on South Pattie where the flue had not been adequately cleaned.

And in Olathe, a home recently sustained about $80,000 in damage, with a candle left unattended the likely cause.

Candles are "nice, but they're so easy to forget," Bevis said.

His reminder: Keep candles away from combustible material, and if you leave a room, remember to extinguish the candle. "You don't want to leave it unobserved."

Problems with chimneys can show up suddenly, and they tend to be used more around the holidays and during cold weather.

Bevis recommends that a chimney be cleaned and checked once a year before use. The chimney cap should be checked for obstructions. Birds will build nests there.

Many times, the culprit is a buildup of soot — material that hasn't completely burned — in the chimney.

Burning soft, moist wood can increase the buildup.

The idea is to burn small amounts of seasoned wood that will burn more slowly and more completely.

Burning too much fuel, burning it too quickly, or using fuel not designed for a fireplace can create excessive heat and flames that can ignite soot.

That's why Bevis warns against burning trash, including wrapping paper, in a fireplace. Burning manufactured wood is another no-no.

"Proper fuel in the proper amounts," he says.

Hot ashes should be soaked in a metal container and stowed outside.

Especially, with older chimneys and construction, too much heat in the chimney can ignite a nearby structure.

A fire in the chimney can spill into the attic or cause a fire where the chimney meets the roof, Bevis says.

Watch for combustible insulation getting against the flue pipe, he says.