Chimney fires are becoming a greater risk in lockdown. PHOTO/FILE

Demand for firewood sky-rockets

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

With cold weather taking grip and wood stockpiles growing, many Wairarapa people have turned to lighting their burners – but chimney fires could become an even greater risk than ever with sweeping non-existent.

Ryan Bolt, of Bolt Firewood in Masterton, is selling so many logs he can barely keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, John Curtis, a Carterton chimney sweep, hasn’t worked a day since the lockdown began – he’d normally be sweeping several chimneys a day, every day, along with dozens of others across the region.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has instructed sweeps, who fall under the ‘tradespeople’ category, that they can only service fireplaces that represent an essential need for maintenance – even then, if there’s a heat pump, or another secondary heat source available in the household, then the sweeping isn’t allowed.

Another problem is that triaging a chimney cannot be done over the phone: there are, according to Curtis, too many variables such as the type of fireplace, the shape of the chimney, and the type of wood that was burnt.

The difference between burning wet and seasoned wood can mean 10 extra litres of soot sitting in a chimney.

The only way to know is for a professional to inspect it and sweep it.

As Wairarapa Rural Fire Officer Harry Howard said, “you don’t know you’ve got an issue until you start cleaning it”.

On top of that, there’s the problem of PPE, and entering people’s personal living spaces, which is very high-risk for tradespeople.

Curtis is a former Wellington firefighter who runs Sootie The Chimney Sweep.

“I rang up the covid-19 people and they said to me that the work is not essential, because in nearly every case, people can have an alternative form of heating,” Curtis said.

“That’s why they’ve allowed people to keep selling heaters.”

As it stands, chimney sweeps are unable to sweep a fireplace if there’s a heat pump on the property, but there are no restrictions on that same fireplace being lit, even if the state of the chimney makes it unsafe.

“I’ve had well over 100 customers that have rang me and are waiting,” Curtis said.

“I found it strange because firewood is delivering and is deemed essential … Basically, MBIE is saying no at the moment.”

As Curtis said, while chimney sweeping has been severely limited, the timber industry has continued as an essential service, with firewood no exception.

There has been no trouble with the supply-chain at all and prices have remained steady.

Bolt Firewood, as well as other regional firewood suppliers, have been taking orders online and dropping them off to residences across Wairarapa, in a socially distant manner.

And with a growing desire to get a sure winter stockpile, they’ve seen demand sky-rocket.

It seems, at the moment, that there are a lot of unswept chimneys across Wairarapa, and a lot of people about to be burning a lot of wood.

As Howard said, “we do recommend that people get their chimneys checked at the start of each winter, so now’s the time to do it.”

Howard was also clear to emphasise the ‘heater metre’ rule – to keep clothes, curtains and other flammable items at least one metre from a heater, so as to reduce the risk of fire.



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