Many people take fireplaces for granted and assume that any fireplace is safe to use. With old fireplaces (75 plus years old) the hazard risk increases, due to the construction designs and deterioration of the mortar and bricks from years of exposure to heat.
With newer fireplaces, however, there is still a risk of fire spreading out from the fireplace. The below photo was taken in the basement under the fireplace of a 25 year old ranch style home in a rural section of GA. The fireplace, original to the house, was a typical brick one with a terra cota liner (clay). The home inspector was tipped off to a potential problem because of cracks he found around and through the hearth.
When you are planning to purchase a home with a fireplace, be sure to ask your potential home inspector how he/she will be checking the fireplace.