Last night, I was laying in bed with the baby, waiting for Rain to come back so that we could watch 30 Rock. Actually, I was delibrately staying awake even though I was exhausted, because I thought he was avoiding me because he thought I was in a bad mood.. which in turn was putting me in a bad mood, therefore I deemed it necessary to stay awake until he came in just to spite him. ANYWAY.
After he came upstairs from stoking the fire in the wood stove for the night, he went and made some juice, came back to the bedroom, and put on 30 Rock. He was sitting about 6 feet in front of me, and I was laying down. Then I started smelling something weird. Almost, plastic like. Synthetic. It was brief, then went away. Then wafted back, briefly. You know when you think you smell something so faint, you think your mind may be playing tricks on you? It was like that. So I said to Rain, “I think I smell something, do you smell it?” to which he answered no, he didn’t smell anything. At this point, I should tell you, I have a nose like a bloodhound. It’s disturbing how good my sense of smell is. About 30 seconds later, I said “It can’t be your juice I’m smelling, can it?”, Rain said he doubted it. After telling myself I was crazy, I then smelled it, and it was much stronger, and it wasn’t disapaiting. “No, I’m smelling something. Something’s melting or… something,” Rain agreed, he could now smell it as well, although faintly. “Could you go check and see what it is?” I asked him. So down the stairs he went to our wood stove. Downstairs was dark, and just as he approached the bottom of the stairs (our wood stove is about 14 feet in front of the stairs), he saw a glow coming from around the stove pipe through a small gap, where it connects to the wall. He ran in the laundry room and grabbed a bucket of water from the laundry sink (that was thankfully full of water), yanked out the stove pipe, and put out the fire before it got out of hand.
It was the beginning of a chimney fire. Have you ever seen a chimney fire? It basically looks like you have a flame thrower attached to the side of your house. It’s fucking terrifying. Look up pictures.
How did it start, you’re probably asking.
When you heat with wood, you have to clean your chimney. The reason being, when you burn anything in your wood stove, it is going to leave a residue in your pipe (chimney). This residue is tar-like creosote, which combines with carbon, dries out and becomes flakey. And flammable. Rain and I cleaned our chimney in December, so it wasn’t that we were neglectful in that regard. What happened was this.
We got a new (to us) wood stove at Christmas time. We were offered it, we accepted it, then when we finally got it home, had it installed, and went to light a fire, we saw that the baffle had completely burned away and was gone.
The baffle’s job is to deflect heat down from coming in to direct contact with the top of the stove, therefore creating a secondary combustion during which most of the gases are burned off, in turn creating a happy, healthy fire. Without this, the fire can climb too high, burn too hot, with lots of extra creosote production. We’ve only had the new wood stove installed for a few weeks, and haven’t been having many hot fires because it was fairly warm, but then we had a cold snap where it was hovering around -30 C* for a few days, and had to build hotter fires. At first everything was dandy, we had nice seasoned birch stacked inside to burn, but when we went to bring in more wood from the woodpile, we threw back the tarp only to discover that our tarp had leaked, and our woodpile was frozen together in a giant mass. Rain actually had to go at it with the axe to get off enough wood to bring inside for a fire. Although we were staggering it so that the wood would have a week to dry out before we burned it, we started to fall behind because our demand started to outweigh our supply.
Can you guess what burning wet wood releases? That’s right friends, creosote. So, combine with the fact that we went through a spell where we weren’t burning very hot fires, to one where we were burning them constantly, then having to resort to burning (although seasoned) damp wood… it’s no real wonder that it happened.
As soon as we saw that the baffle was burned out on the new (again, new to us) wood stove, we knew we had to get a new one asap, but it (stupidly) wasn’t the first thing on our minds.
The shittiest part of all of this is, we know this stuff. We KNOW how chimney fires start. We KNOW what precautions to take, and how to be as safe as possible with fire. There are batteries in the smoke detectors, and we own a fire extinguisher. Yet, for some reason, we let something important slip, despite ourselves. If I hadn’t been awake and smelled something wrong before the smoke detectors went off, it would have taken Rain another 10 minutes to go check the stove, at which point our house would have been engulfed in flames and we would be homeless right now, if not dead because our bed is right by the chimney.
So the moral of the story here is, if you have anything you’re putting on the back burner and dragging your ass about, get on it before you wake up dead. It could take absolutely nothing to trigger an event that will end your life as you know it, and if you can change that right now, why aren’t you? If you know in your heart of hearts that something is wrong, or something could hurt you or someone you love, do something about it. If you rent, and you have some fucked up wiring or something that you know isn’t right, call your landlord and have it changed. If they won’t change it? Present them with the landlord tenant act, you have a right to live somewhere you feel safe.
So, with the accident a few years ago, and now this…. if I were a cat? I’d say I’ve now used 2 of my 9 lives. Sometimes it pays to go to bed angry enough to stay awake, just to be reminded that whatever you were angry about is completely trivial.