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Chimney creosote fire heavily damages S.E. Portland home

by: David F. Ashton, This fire could have been prevented, officials say, by keeping the chimney and furnace flue free of creosote buildup.

Homeowners are cautioned to make sure that creosote - a thick, oily liquid that gradually coats the interior lining of flue pipes and chimneys - doesn't build up in their fireplaces.

But, as occupants of a home just east of Cleveland High School, at 2920 S.E. Franklin Street, found out on December 21st - this admonition also applies to furnace chimneys.

Officials say that one of the home's occupants, Thomas Smith, told them he put about six gallons of #2 diesel fuel into the basement furnace tank about 10 o'clock that morning. Smith turned up the thermostat upstairs, and left about 20 minutes later.

When he returned home about eight hours later, he was confronted with a wall of thick, gray smoke when he opened the front door.

Then, Smith reported, he went around the house to a door leading to the home's basement, and said he noticed that the walls were scorched and smoke filled the basement. Minutes later, the fire 'flashed over', and fire erupted throughout the basement and came up the stairwell.

'When Portland Fire and Rescue Engine 23 [from Brooklyn] pulled up, at 7:20 pm, the crew found thick black smoke billowing out the front door of the two-story home,' Battalion Chief C1 Scott Beyers told THE BEE at the scene.

'That crew headed for the basement to attack the fire. The Truck 25 crew [from Woodstock] went to check for fire in the attic,' continued Beyers. Firefighters reported that the blaze extended through the house by traveling up through a laundry chute. 'The basement was divided up with shelving; it made it difficult for the firefighters to maneuver to the base of the fire.'

The fire inspector determined that the fire started in the flue of the home's oil-fired boiler/heater unit. The inspector noted reported that the chimney and the flue were heavily caked with creosote buildup; the chimney clean-out was also full.

The loss was set at $90,000.00. While there weren't any human injuries, a cat perished in the fire. The occupants were referred to the Red Cross for shelter.

'A very hot fire in a well-working fireplace,' explained the fire bureau's spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt, 'can prevent creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire, because the continued heat output from the fire eventually warms up the lining of the chimney sufficiently to revaporize the deposited creosote.

'But many people don't think about having their furnace's flue and chimney cleaned. That maintenance could save your life.'