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Wood burning safety: Chimney sweep shares expertise

Christopher O'Dell, certified chimney sweep with the Chimney Safety Institute of America, cleans chimneys at a Bemidji home. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

The image on Christopher O'Dell's van depicts a classic chimney sweep in top hat and formal attire.

O'Dell himself, a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild, works in jeans as he cleans fireplaces and runs brushes up and down flues.

O'Dell and his wife, Stephanie, of Pine River own Complete Chimney Care. He said he has expanded his reach to the Bemidji area as the only professional chimney sweep in the area.

"It's a niche industry, it's a very small industry and I feel proud to be part of it," he said.

O'Dell was in Bemidji Tuesday cleaning and inspecting the wood stoves and chimneys at the home of Rev. Michael and Rojene Rogers.

"When we're looking in here, what we're seeing is glazed creosote, which is very difficult to remove," O'Dell said as he ran his flashlight around inside one of the wood stoves.

He added that every appliance should have a separate flue and all should be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved. The UL label on the back of a wood burning stove or furnace shows the appliance is manufactured by a legitimate company and should be safe to use. The label will also indicate proper installation and maintenance.

O'Dell said people can sweep their own chimneys, but recommended they have a professional every few years to check that everything is in good order. He is certified with the Chimney Safety Institute of America and charges $179 per visit.

O'Dell said he moved into the chimney sweep profession from work as a brick layer and stone mason. He has been in business for eight years.

Tips for maintaining safe chimneys, fireplaces and wood burning appliances come from the National Fire Protection Association:

- Have chimneys inspected annually.

- Keep tree branches at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.

- Install a chimney cap.

- Place firewood at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. Never use flammable liquids for starting a fire.

- Keep hearth area clear and furniture at least 36 inches away from the hearth.

- Use a fireplace screen to catch flying sparks.

- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

- Never leave a fire unattended.

- Use dry, well-seasoned firewood.

"That's a very important component of burning wood, good quality dry wood," said O'Dell.

He said smaller, hotter fires burn more completely and produce less smoke.

"When your fireplace is clean and in good condition, you have fewer emissions," O'Dell said.

For more information and referrals, go to or call a local fireplace store.