Firefighters have issued a Chimney Fire Safety Week message urging householders to help prevent potentially devastating fires.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) crews deal with more than a thousand chimney fires each year but having a certified sweep clear the flue makes disaster much less likely to strike.
Many people who live in homes with open fires fail to realise the importance of properly maintaining chimneys.
Assistant Chief Officer David McGown, the SFRS director of prevention and protection, explained: “Soot and fuel residues slowly build up over time and these leftovers can catch fire.
“This could send burning soot into the living room or start a fire that takes hold within the roof or on other floors of the house.
“Even if it doesn’t burn the house down, a chimney fire can leave a huge mess.
“Making sure a chimney is professionally swept and checked can significantly reduce the chance of a fire happening.”
The type of fuel burned in a fire determines how often the chimney should be swept.
Where smokeless coals are burned the chimney should be swept at least once each year, while fires burning bituminous coal or peat need to have the chimney swept twice per year.
A chimney serving a fire where wood is burned should be swept quarterly when it is in use.
HETAS [Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme] is the official body recognised by the government for approving biomass and solid fuel services and it has a database of chimney sweeps across the UK.
Its chief executive officer, Bruce Allen, said: “All of the approved sweeps are members of one of three chimney sweep trade associations and have attended a HETAS training course.
“Householders using HETAS approved chimney sweeps can be confident that a sweep has obtained the necessary training to safely sweep their chimney and will be giving their home the very best care and attention.”
SFRS is also clear that it is important householders in properties with open fires only use them to burn the right type of material.
Mr McGown added: “We would strongly discourage people from burning wet wood as it can cause a build-up in the flue and ultimately a chimney fire.
“Flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin should never be used to light a fire, things like paper or rubbish should not be burned in the grate and it’s also important the fire isn’t overloaded with fuel.
“Using a spark-guard when the fire is unattended will prevent embers setting fire to furniture or carpets.”
Defects in a chimney can also cause fires so people are encouraged to go into the loft or roof space occasionally to check the chimney while the fire is alight.
This will allow them to check for soot coming from cracks, defective brickwork or mortar joints.
Taking these steps prior to the winter months, when fires are likely to be in greater use, will help prevent emergencies from happening but if a fire does strike then early warning is crucial.
SFRS is clear every home needs to be protected by working smoke alarms on every level of the property.
Additional smoke alarms in living rooms and bedrooms, as well as heat alarms in kitchens, increase fire safety by providing people with further early warning in the event of a fire starting.
Free home fire safety visits are available throughout Scotland and SFRS wants to hear from anyone who thinks they, or someone they know, could benefit from the advice and support of local firefighters.
The short visits can be arranged by calling the freephone number 0800 073 1999, by texting ‘FIRE’ to 80800 or by filling in a form at www.firescotland.gov.uk.