From a conversation on the old forum:
Fireplaces are very romantic but make sure they’re inspected every year. Of particular concern to local fire departments are the older fireplaces with chimneys that rise through floors instead of being attached to the exterior of your building.
Fireplaces that rise through buildings put the building at risk for a structure fire if they wear away on the inside and allow heat to come into contact with wooden floor beams or plaster.
The best way to safeguard yourself is to have a chimney service check your chimney every year.
Last night at the weekly training session for our volunteer fire department, the chief broke out our equipment for dealing with chimney fires. The equipment consists of a large metal tub, several tarps, a spade with a short handle, a heavy chain connected to an iron bar on the end, and a container of dry chemicals.
If we have to respond to a chimney fire, we will throw a ladder against the roof and climb onto the roof. We’ll throw one end of the chain into the chimney to help clear debris. We’ll then throw tarps over all of the furniture in the room with the fireplace, shut the doors, and sprinkle dry chemicals into the chimney.
Unless the fire has broken through the chimney to create a structure fire, we’ll put the fire out with the dry chemicals and then begin clearing debris out with a spade. The alternative would be to use water which would then flood the room in question with black soot. Unless it’s a structure fire, most fire departments won’t do this since we try to avoid damaging property whenever possible.
The chief said that last year we had several local fires that resulted because of birds nests or vegetation – both of which would have been cleaned out by a chimney sweep.