Chimney creosote fire heavily damages SE Portland home

See why you should make sure your home’s chimney is free of creosote build-up – even if you don’t have a fireplace …

The crew of Engine 23 attacks the fire started near the home’s furnace.

Story and Photos by David F. Ashton
Homeowners are cautioned to make sure that creosote – a thick, oily liquid that gradually coats the interior lining of flue pipes and chimneys – doesn’t build up in their fireplaces.

But, as occupants of a home just east of Cleveland High School, at 2920 SE Franklin Street, found out on Dec. 21 – this admonition also applies to furnace chimneys.

This fire could have been prevented, officials say, by keeping the chimney and furnace flue free of creosote buildup.

Fire smolders for hours
Officials say that one of the home’s occupants, Thomas Smith, told them he put about six gallons of #2 diesel fuel in the basement furnace tank about 10 o’clock that morning. Smith turned up the thermostat upstairs, and left about 20 minutes later.

When he returned home about eight hours later, he was confronted with a wall of thick, gray smoke when he opened the front door.

Neighbors told us they smelled smoke, and noticed thick, gray smoke coming out of the chimney, but didn’t investigate further.

Then, Smith reported, he went around the house to a door leading to the home’s basement, and said he noticed that the walls were scorched and smoke filled the basement. Minutes later, the fire “flashed over”, and fire erupted throughout the basement and came up the stairwell.

Had the fire call come in earlier, this house would have suffered much less extensive damage.

Firefighters navigate through thick smoke
“When Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 23 pulled up, at 7:20 p.m., the crew found thick, black smoke billowing out the front door of the two-story home,” Battalion Chief C1 Scott Beyers told us at the scene.

“That crew headed for the basement to attack the fire. The Truck 25 crew went to check for fire in the attic,” continued Beyers. “Then we had crews check for fire extension from the basement. There was an interior stairwell they opened at the top, to check the top part of the staircase.”

Firefighters reported that the blaze extended through the house by traveling up through a laundry chute. “The basement was divided up with shelving; it made it difficult for the firefighters to maneuver to the base of the fire.”

Ignition factor: Lack of maintenance
The fire inspector ascertained that the fire started in the flue of the home’s oil-fired boiler/heater unit. The inspector noted reported that the chimney and the flue were heavily caked with creosote buildup; the chimney clean-out was also full.

The loss was set at $90,000.00. While there weren’t any human injuries, a cat perished in the fire. The occupants were referred to the Red Cross for shelter.

Firefighters exit the house after putting out the fire that extended upward through the home by way of a laundry chute.

An ounce of prevention …
“A very hot fire in a well-working fireplace,” explained the fire bureau’s spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt, “can prevent creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire, because the continued heat output from the fire eventually warms up the lining of the chimney sufficiently to revaporize the deposited creosote.

“But many people don’t think about having their furnace’s flue and chimney cleaned. That maintenance could save your life.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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