Olympia, WA -- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials warn residents that use of earthquake-damaged chimneys can cause tragic consequences for homeowners whose chimneys have not been checked to see if they are safe.
Masonry chimneys are extremely vulnerable to earthquake damage, especially those parts that are freestanding above the roofline. But, while brick and mortar chimneys are most commonly damaged, even newer, reinforced chimneys or metal flue chimneys can sustain significant damage and need attention. "In the aftermath of past earthquakes, there have been disastrous results for homeowners who used their fireplaces before having their chimneys inspected for safety hazards," said Washington State Coordinating Officer Diane Offord. "Homes have caught fire and fumes have escaped into the living area. Everyone should take the danger seriously."
Hidden chimney hazards could include cracks between the chimney and the exterior wall, or internal cracks in the liner. More than fifty percent of the homes inspected by FEMA to date sustained chimney damage during the Nisqually Earthquake. Many older chimneys damaged by the earthquake were in a weakened condition because the mortar had deteriorated or because the chimney was constructed with unreinforced masonry.
It is not simply a case of seeing misaligned chimneys, displaced materials, separation between the chimney and the exterior wall or visible cracks. It is also an issue of hidden chimney cracks between the structure and the chimney that may harm the chimney's structural integrity, allowing toxic gases, fire or heat to escape or the chimney to collapse.
"Normally, fireplaces that are regularly used should be inspected annually as part of a routine building maintenance," said Seattle Fire Marshall James Fosse. "This earthquake heightens the importance chimneys play in keeping a building safe."
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