Experts say fireplaces should be inspected every year. (CBC)

Devastating fires over the holidays have experts warning people with wood-burning fireplaces to have them inspected.

In December, two homes in Regina were consumed by fires that officials have attributed to problems with a fireplace. No one was hurt in the fires, but the disruption and losses were significant.

The incidents provide a harsh reminder about the value of inspection and maintenance of a fireplace.

"Clean it once a year," Steve Flett, from the retail store Northern Fireplaces in Regina, advises.

Flett said people may not realize it, but burning paper and other household garbage in a fireplace can quickly add to creosote buildup in the flue.

Creosote is a type of oil that can coat the walls of a chimney flue. A chimney may also become blocked.

There are also concerns about the integrity of the box containing the fire. Movement in a home's structure can result in cracks to the fireplace that may not be visible unless it's properly inspected. That can produce a very dangerous situation.

"That heat you have from the fireplace, instead of going up nicely through the chimney, will actually go into the walls," Angela Prawzick, a spokeswoman for the Regina Fire Department, explained to CBC News. "The more heat buildup you have there, the more susceptible you are to a fire."

Flett added that homeowners who may feel confident because they have a relatively newer model of fireplace should not be complacent.

"Even with the factory fireboxes, the metal fireboxes and metal chimneys, they have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years," Flett said. "So there's a lot of time bombs out there that are 30 to 40 years old that should be changed out."

Chimney fires can be especially devastating because they often start inside walls and can't be seen right away.

Experts agree that the best way to avoid tragedy is to have a qualified inspector examine your fireplace every year.