As temperatures start to plunge, Shropshire householders are being urged to get their chimneys swept to avoid the high number of chimney fires recorded last winter.
Firefighters have attended an average of one chimney fire every two days over the past couple of years with most being avoidable, said a community fire safety officer.
Damage ranges from smoke logging in a living room similar to a “black spray gun attack” to flames destroying the house roof, said Rabinder Dhami, of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
“The basic damage caused is as if someone has gone into your living room with a spray gun and sprayed it all black. All your furniture, photos and belongings are black and reek of smoke.
“It is much worse when the fire escalates and damages part of a room or even more tragic when it gets into the loft space and brings part of the roof down.
“A chimney fire is not trivial. It can cause mayhem to your home and can be avoided by simply having your chimney swept regularly,” he added.
Telford chimney sweep Daniel Massey said that earlier this year it had been his “sootiest” ever.
“It was a cold winter last year and people were using their fires from September to May. This has definitely been the sootiest year for sweeping chimneys.
The dangers were caused by sap and tar from unseasoned wood coating the sides of a chimney where temperatures can reach 1,100 Celsius.
“A simple spark can start a huge amount of flames and eventually there is a substantial fire with flames shooting out of the top of a chimney.
“With an older house you have rafters touching the chimney and there is the potential for fire to spread,” said Mr Massey.
At the beginning of this year there were 28 chimney fires in the first 28 days of January with firefighters turning out to deal with log burners, Rayburns and open fires.
Fire officers urge people to have their chimneys swept at least once a year, not to use unseasoned wood and beware of carbon monoxide poisoning from unswept chimneys. Leaving a fire burning overnight is also dangerous.
People should also use a qualified installer to fit a Rayburn. Without it their insurance would be at risk if there was a fire.
Shropshire firefighters attended 182 chimney fires in the 12 months between April 2012 and 2013.