SEASIDE - Helmi Netzel knows she's a very lucky lady.

The 82-year-old Seaside resident was forced out of her home on Cedar Street around 7 this morning when her chimney caught fire. This is the second fire she's had in the same chimney in three years. Netzel uses a wood stove to heat her home.

Neighbors noticed flames coming from the chimney and called Seaside dispatch, who sent Seaside Fire and Rescue to the site. Firefighters used a ladder truck to enter the chimney from the top and send a water hose down to cool the chimney foot by foot. Firefighters also inspected the stove and chimney from inside the home.

No one was injured and the fire was completely out in about an hour.

"I was very scared," Netzel said as she stood in the rain outside her home. "I had gotten up and there were coals in the stove, so I put a few pieces of wood in there and left the door ajar. I went to make coffee and I guess I was gone a little too long, because I heard a roar."

Fire Marshal Chris Dugan said that the chimney was completely plugged with creosote. Opening a stove's damper, especially after it has been closed for a while, or leaving a stove door ajar, complicates the problem.

"It just takes a little spark to catch that creosote and the draft just fuels it," he said.

Fire Chief Joe Dotson also discovered a crack around the stove and chimney area and advised Netzel to get it repaired before using the stove again. She was also advised to get her chimney cleaned twice a year; she's previously had it cleaned once a year.

"I'm appreciative and very grateful for all the help," she said, after giving Dugan a hug. "You were angels of mercy to come and rescue a little old lady like me."

Dugan said that, fortunately, the fire department does not have to respond to many chimney fires. Several years ago, it seemed like there was "one a night," but now people seem to be more careful when burning. They are also using a greater variety of fuels, including pellets and gas.

"As long as people stay educated, we won't have to go out to chimney fires very often," he said.

For more information about chimney safety, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America's Web site at

(www.csia.org).

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