Fireplace inserts can pose critical danger

Date: April 4, 2012
Point of Contact: Thom Heller, Phone Number: (760) 934-2300

fireplace

Mammoth Fire Department Fire Marshall Thom Heller said, "As a result of the clearances that may not have been met, combustible materials are igniting and several fires have resulted around town."

The Town of Mammoth Lakes Community Development Department (Town) and Mammoth Lakes Fire Department (Fire District) have identified an issue with inserted wood burning fireplace installations in town.  If you have either a pellet/gas insert installation or a masonry flue/chase, these types of appliances or installations are not an issue.  The issue is that wood burning inserts placed into zero clearance fireplace boxes (fireplace) with factory built metal flue pipes and wooden chases may not have adequate clearance to combustible materials (wood, plywood, and/or sheetrock behind the rock, brick, metal and/or wooden material that doesn’t allow you to see on the interior surface of the fireplace façade).  This issue can exist in all types of residential occupancies, from single family to multi-family projects.  As a result of the clearances that may not have been met, combustible materials are igniting and several fires have resulted around town.  Thus far there have been no injuries, but both the Town and Fire District feel that we cannot wait until something tragic occurs before we take necessary action.  At this point both agencies are hoping to educate the town population to the concern.

The original fireplace contained fires that never obtained very high burning temperatures, due to the amount of heat that went up the flue.  Once the insert was installed, the appliance burned much more efficiently causing the combustibles surrounding the original installation to be exposed to significantly greater heat levels.  Another factor is the amount of use the insert is experiencing.  The issue is occurring throughout town; no certain complex, no certain installer, no certain type of product, nor any other common characteristic that allows the agencies to narrow down the likely installations of concern.  One complex in town had 23 of 60 units show some sign of heat damage to combustibles.

Permitted installations during the last 18 to 24 months that followed the manufacturer’s installation instructions have been installed correctly.  The Town and Fire District do not mean to alarm anyone, but strongly believe that this situation is serious enough to inform the public on the use and installation of these types of wood burning installations.  If you need any further assistance or have any questions, please contact the Fire District at (760) 934-2300 or Town at (760) 934-8989, ex 244.  For more information: http://mammothlakesfd.intuitwebsites.com

 

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2 Responses to Fireplace inserts can pose critical danger

  1. dean April 5, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    “Permitted installations during the last 18 to 24 months that followed the manufacturer’s installation instructions have been installed correctly.”

    Does this mean that they were providing permits for incorrectly installed insert fireplaces prior to 24 months ago?

    Is this generally phenomena related primarily to wood burning fireplace inserts that were installed inappropriately, with lack of clearance and flashing?

    Would love to know more – does MFD have some sort of a database of these incidents that is available to the public?

     
  2. Observer April 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    It is not obvious from the report if the clearances met manufacturers recommendations but the recommendations are proving inadequate (not likely), or if installations failed to comply with the recommendations. If the latter, that seems to be either an installer’s failure, or a breakdown in building permit requirements, review and inspection, or a combination of the two. Did the Town require a building permit for the potentially hazardous installations? Were clearances met? Are codes adequate? Where dimensioned plans approved? Were inspections made? While the Fire Department denies being able to isolate which inserts are at risk, there needs to be some focus on accountability that can lead to a plan of action to retroactively achieve compliance and proactively insure safety. The right analogy might be to an automobile manufacturer issuing a safety recall for a free safety inspection or product recall and replacement. I don’t see anything resembling that course of action in the Fire Department advisory.

     

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