Burning Issues In Fireplace Failures


The fire loss involves your insured’s fireplace. The fire originally starts in the fireplace, but spreads to nearby combustibles, catching the structure on fire. Is there a subrogation case? 

Fireplace with burning logsOnce a fireplace loss comes in, thorough analysis of the fireplace system needs to take place. Generally, fireplaces are masonry built of bricks, blocks, or stone and mortar. The other fireplace type is a light-weight metal chimney and metal firebox. Hybrids exist, so careful examination of the fireplace is necessary. Masonry fireplaces are massive structures. Due to their weight, settling or movement are common problems to be evaluated. Settling often occurs where the firebox meets the facing. Specifically, where the fire brick meets the facing. That weak spot can permit fire to travel to adjacent combustibles. Fireplace fires burn up to temperatures of 2,000 degrees, easily igniting inappropriately exposed combustibles. The firebox itself needs to be checked. The joints in the firebox expand and contract. Those need to be checked to insure that they did not fail, permitting the fire to escape.

Factory-built fireplaces are commonplace today. They have become readily available in the last 25 years.  Most are made of metal and are sold as complete systems with a specific chimney.  Installation manuals need to be obtained to make sure the original installation of these factory-built fireplaces was correct. Applicable codes insist that factory-built fireplaces be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications/listing. Clearances (usually two-inch air space) is required from nearby combustible framing. If the clearance is not correct, nearby wood will dry out over time and lower the ignition temperature of the adjacent combustible framing. Called pyrolysis, if this process continues unabated, a fire will likely result.

As to all fireplaces, what material was burned is important to determine. What was the quantity used? Was over-firing a contributing factor? Areas to be examined include but are not limited to the foundation, ash dump, hearth, firebox, lintel, damper, smoke shelf, smoke chamber, flashing, flue, crown, spark arrestor, and cap. Additionally, review sweep records on the fireplace. Was the fireplace maintained? When was the last sweep work done? What repairs have been made to the fireplace? Was the fireplace fireblocking done correctly? All these factors and others need to be properly evaluated to determine if a fireplace loss has subrogation potential.

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