When we returned from our Sunday evening egg delivery, the house had cooled down, so I opened the damper on the back of the stove. As the flames caught up, I heard a whoosh and then an intense crackling. Joe stood for a moment listening and then announced, “I think the chimney’s on fire.”
Twenty three years ago, the first time this happened, I grabbed the phone and began dialing the fire department. Joe took the phone from my hands, closed up the back of the stove and sat down to have a beer while I ran around the house gathering up all my prized possessions in case we had to evacuate. Apparently, chimney fires were a fairly common woodstove occurrence. Before calling the volunteer firemen away from their mashed potatoes and gravy, country courtesy required that you try to put out the fire yourself. So, when the stove had cooled a bit we searched for something that Joe could use to knock down the smoldering creosote. Lacking a long board, we settled on my horse lunge line and an old spade I’d inherited from my grandmother. We tied the spade to the end of the rope and Joe climbed the ladder to dangle it down the chimney. The blade swung around knocking creosote loose. This worked pretty well until we melted the handle of the spade.
After twenty years of dealing with stopped up smoke holes I was surprised two years ago when Joe actually handed me the phone. Flames and sparks were rising from the chimney and after singeing his eyebrows, he decided that it was too hot for us to deal with. All of the firemen are neighbors, so we chatted while they scrambled up and down their ladders. Dressed in their heavy coats and smoke shields, they hauled up a heavy chain hooked to a steel punch and dropped it down into the fiery pit. When they were finished, I served my local heroes coffee and cookies before they headed back to their farms.
Although we clean our chimney every summer, about mid-winter, it usually stops up again. Joe has stood on our slick roof in fifty mile per hour winds, thunderstorms and blizzards. He said tonight was a piece of cake. After years of practice, my husband has perfected his technique. He scrambled up the ladder and I handed him a fifteen- foot long stick and a chimney sweep’s brush. After punching the stick into the smoking tunnel, Joe swooshed the brush up and down a few times while I shoveled out the hot creosote that clattered down to the clean out hole. We actually meant to have Scott do this for us when he was home, but forgot to ask him.
No matter. The chimney is clean, the smoke is rising, and Joe finished in time to watch Virginia Tech beat Boston College.