The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that their are approximately 360,000 chimney fires per year in the US. Chimney fires are dangerous because the high heat generated by the fire can cause serious and costly damage to the chimney and the fire can extend from the chimney into the structure of the building, causing catastrophic loss of life and property.
Chimney fires result from build up creosote, a by product of wood combustion. Creosote build up is limited by burning well seasoned, dry hard wood at moderate to high temperatures. Chimney fires produce a loud cracking and popping noise, a lot of dense smoke, and an intense, hot smell.
Perhaps the most important tool to preventing chimney fires is a regular annual inspection and cleaning of your chimney(s) by a qualified professional. The Chimney Safety Institute of America can help you find a certified chimney sweep at: http://www.csia.org/search.