Potentially deadly cracks in the chimney masonry led to a fire in the attic space of a Sherman Avenue home on Sunday.
A working smoke alarm and a quick fire department response helped prevent what could have been a devastating house fire on Jan. 6 at 1605 Sherman Ave. in Hood River.
At 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, Hood River Fire and EMS crews responded to an emergency phone call from the property renter reporting a suspected chimney flue fire. The occupant had been awakened by a working smoke alarm when smoke began filing his home.
When crews arrived, they found smoke coming from the eves and walls of the single-story home.
Searching for the source, firefighters opened the interior walls around the chimney and found fire in the interior space between the chimney and house framing. The fire was not contained inside the flue.
The cause of the fire was determined to be cracks and spaces between bricks in the chimney that allowed heat and fire to penetrate into the house frame. Wood around the fireplace showed intense heat damage that had been occurring, potentially for years. The wood framing around the bricks had finally ignited.
With the coordinated fire crew efforts, the fire was immediately extinguished and no additional fire involvement was found in the attic space or throughout the house.
Wells noted that the occupant first called the fire department offices directly to report what he believed was a flue fire. He was immediately advised to call 911, initiating a full-scale response.
When firefighters arrived on scene, the fire was upgraded to a first alarm when crews arrived and found fire in the walls.
“Working smoke alarms save lives and limit property damage,” says Fire Chief Devon Wells. “The occupant of this fire was saved from serious injury or death, and the damage to his home was limited because of early detection.”
Wells also advises that people should call 911 immediately and avoid using the fire department’s business phone number. “You never know if we are on another call and not at the station. Calling 911 will get responders coming faster and more efficiently.”
Cracked chimney mortar is a dangerous condition that can lead to chimney flue fires. Although the home’s chimney had been cleaned in fall 2012, the cracks had not been detected.
“If your chimney shows signs of age or the mortar appears to be falling out, have a chimney service inspect the liner,” said Wells. “That is the only way this fire could have been prevented — by having the mortar replaced or inserting a fully enclosed liner inside the chimney.”
No injuries were reported in the event that utilized 15 firefighters, including five from West Side Fire District. According to Wells, this incident marks the first fire of 2013 for the department, which has already answered more than 25 emergency calls this year.
For more information on smoke alarms, or to find out how you can volunteer for Hood River Fire & EMS, call the fire station at 541-386-3939 or stop by the Ty Taylor station located behind the swimming pool at 17th and May streets.