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Fire crews quell Medford chimney fire

A fire broke out in a chimney at 541 Garfield St. in Medford Thursday night, prompting a four-engine response from Medford Fire-Rescue, but firefighters were able to keep the blaze from spreading to other parts of the house.

Medford Fire Battalion Chief Brian Fish said the fire is a warning for area residents to get their chimneys checked and cleaned of a creosote buildup as the colder months roll in. The buildup can catch fire if it's heavy enough.

"It creeps up on people fast this time of year," Fish said.

Creosote is residue from wood that did not burn completely and sticks to the walls of the chimney. The compound is typically composed of oils and moisture from the wood mixed with ash. It can collect in either powdery or tarry forms, the latter being much more flammable. Creosote is created by burning wet wood or not allowing enough oxygen into the fireplace or woodstove during a burn.

Fire officials said to check the chimney for a buildup at least once a year, preferably every six months, and as frequently as once a month if it's known that moister wood will be burned.

"Every six months would be great," said Mark Northrop, deputy fire marshal for Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

Northrop said fire agencies typically see an upswing in flue fires starting in November.

To prevent a flue fire, homeowners should check for a buildup that is greater than one-eighth of an inch thick on the chimney's interior walls.

"That would be a sign it's time to clean it for sure," said Mark Kohn, owner of Chim Chiminey Sweepers in Medford.

The Garfield Street fire was under control in about five minutes, but firefighters stayed on the scene checking the attic for additional trouble spots. A key concern in chimney fires is that cracks in the chimney caused by the overheating creosote can allow flames to spread farther into the home where they're difficult to reach.

"Then you end up getting an attic fire," Northrop said.

These types of cracks also should be monitored and repaired if needed.

Fire officials recommend getting the chimney cleaned twice a year, either by a professional or by scrubbing away the creosote buildup.

"If people do it on a regular basis, it's pretty simple," Fish said.

On average, a standard chimney-sweep inspection and cleaning will cost from $120 to $170. Standard chimney-cleaning brushes cost between $11 and $25, with 4-foot lengths of handle that connect and extend the brush costing about $8 apiece. Some fire agencies will lend them out for free.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.