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Friday Fire Displaces Family Of Four
Firefighters suited up to contain a chimney fire that raged out of control and nearly destroyed a home on East C Street on Friday, March 9. No one was injured but the home had heavy smoke damage and a loss to the two-car garage conversion to the 1,900 square foot home. - photo by Kim Van Meter/The Leader

Keep Fireplaces And Wood Stoves Clean

The following tips were suggested by the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency)

•Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
•Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
•Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
•Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
•Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
•Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
•Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
Safely Burn Fuels
•Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
•Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
•Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
•Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
•When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.


There was no mistaking the plume of gray smoke as it spiraled into the blue skies on Friday, March 9 as a house on East C Street began to burn from an out-of-control chimney fire and ended up displacing a family of four.

The home, owned by Bret and Irene McKenzie, was a 1,900 square foot home that sustained major smoke damage and a loss to the two-car garage (converted into additional living space), racking up an estimated $50,000 in property damage and $20,000 in content loss.

Irene McKenzie, fighting back tears, watched as firefighters worked diligently to contain the blaze to the attic as smoke choked the air and drew curious neighbors from their homes.

“Everything we own is in there. This is our life in there,” she said, crying.

The couple has lived in the home for the past 18 years and Bret McKenzie is a U.S. military veteran.

According to Bret McKenzie, he’d been putting wood chips from the yard into the wood stove and suddenly, the flames shot up the chimney and caught the attic on fire.

He watched in a state of shock as flames licked the roof and devoured the attic, saying, “I’ve never had anything like this happen. I’ve been putting wood chips in the wood stove for years. It happened pretty fast.”

Fire officials stated, likely, it wasn’t the wood chips that caused the blaze to rage out of control; it was a common problem often overlooked by homeowners.

“It’s not the material being burned it’s the checking of the integrity of the flue and chimney that’s the problem,” said Capt. Dan Cummins of the Oakdale City Fire Department. “It’s actually very uncommon for people to do their annual check on their chimneys but it’s something that should be done every year same as replacing the batteries in your smoke detector.”

Cummins said the fire department sees quite a few chimney fires during the first cold snap of winter but most are contained to the chimney and, if the homeowner is lucky, doesn’t spread to the attic.

The McKenzie family wasn’t that lucky; even though the firefighters were able to contain the fire to the two-car garage conversion, there was heavy smoke damage throughout the home and sections of the roof were charred.

Red Cross provided immediate assistance to the family, which included a 5-year-old child.

“Red Cross has been great helping out with displaced families,” Cummins said. “There are always here within 20 minutes of our calling for help. They’re great.”

According to the US Fire Administration, a division of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes.