After Potomac mansion fire, firefighters suggest a holiday chimney inspection

Hours after Potomac, Maryland, homeowners lit a fire in their fireplace Monday, 65 firefighters were in their attic trying to control flames that ended up causing nearly $1 million in damage. But firefighters say there’s an easy way to prevent it from happening to you.

A fire in Potomac caused more than $900,000 in damages. (Courtesy Montgomery County Fire and Rescue)

The two people inside the house on Holly Leaf Lane didn’t realize smoke and possibly embers were escaping from their chimney in the attic and causing their home to burn above them, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

“Often people describe it like a freight-train type of noise. That’s a roaring, burning, intense fire in your chimney,” he said.

Ten minutes after firefighters arrived at 4 p.m. Monday, Piringer said, the roof caved in. No one was hurt.

“Typically, if you have an older-style home with a brick-and-mortar type of chimney, those need to be inspected. Over time, the creosote builds up and it can deteriorate the mortar, and the bricks can come loose, and then the heat can seep out through that. So it’s important to have your chimney inspected,” he said.

For those who have a prefabricated fireplace insert, inspection is still recommended every few years to ensure the insulation surrounding the metal insert is properly protecting heat from escaping into the walls.

Firefighters have responded to a number of house fires already this season, and Piringer said a few involved the improper disposal of fireplace ashes.

“People have put their ashes either out on the carport or on the wood deck next to the house. And even a couple of days later, they retain enough heat where they might get a little bit of a wind or a draft, and then they burst into flames. So you have to make sure that you cool your ashes, usually in the can with water.”

He suggested a metal container that can be sealed.

Other holiday safety measures to consider to prevent fires:

  • Get other heating appliances checked by a professional before using them daily.
  • Water live Christmas trees daily.
  • Avoid running extension cords under carpets.
  • Plug multiple lights into a surge protector so as not to overload circuits.
  • Leave 3 feet of clearance around portable heaters.
  • Don’t leave candles unattended.

Meantime, the cause of two significant house fires Tuesday in D.C. is still under investigation.

More than 100 firefighters responded to find flames shooting out of a 2 1/2-story house on Colorado Avenue Northwest at 7:30 a.m., said D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Vito Maggiolo.

The house was vacant and there were no injuries, but after finding heavy fire on the first floor and trying to contain it, firefighters had to withdraw and fight it from the outside. Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George shared photos on Twitter.

While firefighters were there, Maggiolo said, they received another call to respond to 16th Street Northwest. Inside the row house, they found smoke coming from the second floor and had to open up the walls and ceilings to put it out, he said. They also found a dog that didn’t want to leave, but it was evacuated and no one was injured.

The two residents, who were not home at the time, are displaced and asked for assistance from the American Red Cross, Maggiolo said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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