MADISON, Wis. -

There's nothing quite like sitting down next to a warm fireplace on a cold Wisconsin night, but sometimes chimneys can cause unwanted and damaging fires.

Just last week, a chimney was blamed for a house fire on Madison's east side.

Madison Fire Department fire marshal Ed Ruckriegel said chimneys are generally safe, provided homeowners take proper care of them

"You can't have a fireplace and ignore it," Ruckriegel said. "They need to be maintained."

Ruckriegel said homeowners should hire a chimney sweep for regular maintenance.

"If you've never had a fireplace before I would really suggest you get a chimney sweep, somebody to come out and talk to you about how you use it and how you maintain it, how you use it, how you operate it," Ruckriegel said. "They really need to make sure they know what they're doing, licensed, bonded, insured and following the codes."

Greg Rotiek of Hansen & Sons, a Madison chimney sweep, said it's important not to overfire a fireplace.

"Don't have a raging inferno in there. It's not going to do you any good," Rotiek said.

Rotiek said the choice of wood also matters.

"Use well-seasoned wood. You want to use hard woods," Rotiek said. "Oak or hickory is pretty good."

Ruckriegel said while thermoimaging devices can help firefighters battle chimney fires, they often require firefighters to use destructive methods to get to the source.

"They're in concealed spaces, they're hard to find and unfortunately for the homeowner when the firefighters are rooting around trying to find that fire, they're removing drywall, they're removing ceilings," Ruckriegel said.

According to the nonprofit Chimney Safety Institute of America, more than 20,000 fires annually originate in chimneys across the United States.

For more information on chimney safety, visit the CSIA's website.