The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) reported that US fire departments responded to 346,800 house structure fires per year from 2015 to 2019. In other words, there was a house fire in the country every few minutes. Though there are several possible causes of house fires, one common culprit is a puff back.

What Is Puff Back?

A puff back is a phenomenon that can occur when a furnace or boiler malfunctions, causing unburned fuel to be expelled from the unit explosively. This unburned fuel can cause a fire to start in your home, so it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with puff backs and take steps to avoid them.

Puff backs can happen with any heating system but are most common with oil-fired systems. Less common causes are gas-fired systems.

How Does Puff Back Start a Fire?

Puff back can start a fire in several ways, including:

  • One of the most common causes is when soot from the flue gas builds up on surfaces inside the chimney. This soot can easily ignite if it comes into contact with a spark or heat source.
  • Another common cause of puff back is when moisture accumulates in the furnace or boiler. This can happen if the unit isn’t properly vented or if there’s a problem with the chimney. When the moisture turns to steam, it can cause an explosive reaction that blows flames and soot out the unit. Also, this moisture can cause mold to your home, so take care of it immediately or call professionals, such as these mold remediation Fairfax experts.

What Can You Do to Avoid Puff Back?

  • Have your heating system inspected and regularly serviced by a qualified technician.
  • Ensure your chimney is properly cleaned and inspected at least once a year.
  • Keep all vents and openings on your heating system free of obstruction.
  • Don’t allow debris or snow to build up around your furnace or boiler.
  • If you have an oil-fired heating system, use a licensed and insured oil delivery company.
  • If you have a gas or propane heating system, have the gas lines inspected and serviced regularly by a qualified technician.
  • Never use an open flame when starting a furnace or boiler that’s been shut down for repairs.
  • Consider installing CO alarms on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly if inhaled in large quantities. Puff backs can produce high levels of carbon monoxide, so it’s important to have detectors installed to alert you if there’s a problem.

What to Do If a Fire Occurs Due to a Puff Back

If a fire starts in your home due to a puff back, take these steps:

  • Go out of the house and call 911.
  • Don’t try to fight the fire yourself.
  • Leave all your belongings and exit the home immediately.
  • Don’t go near the unit if you have an oil-fired heating system. It may still be hot and could explode.
  • Keep a safe distance from the house until the fire department arrives.
  • Call fire restoration professionals near you, like these fire restoration companies McLean.


The most effective way to avoid a puff back and a potential fire is to let your heating system be checked by a qualified technician regularly. If a fire occurs due to a puff back, immediately call necessary agencies, such as 911, your local fire department, restoration companies, etc.

Make sure to call restoration experts near you. This is to avoid causing further damage to your house just because they took so long to arrive. Note that time is crucial when it comes to fires and their aftermaths. Learn more about how fire and water damage professionals can save your property.