Safety Precautions

According to the US Fire Administration, fireplace fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas each year. By taking a few precautions before lighting a fireplace fire, you can make sure it burns as safely as possible:

  1. Clean the chimney and clear the surrounding area. The chimney must be clean and unblocked to function safely. An annual inspection and cleaning is highly recommended. In addition, any flammable objects around the hearth area should be removed, including paper, plastic, or resin decorations.

  2. Burn safe fuels. Only seasoned hardwood should be used in fireplaces. Moist wood or soft wood encourages creosote buildup. Never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid to start a fire. Never use the fireplace to burn cardboard, wrapping paper, or any other debris.

  3. Protect your surroundings. Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home, and they should be tested monthly. When the fireplace is in use, be sure to close the mesh screen or doors to keep embers from escaping; when the fire is out, close the glass doors so that air from the chimney doesn’t filter into the room.

Building a Fire

How To Build a Fireplace Fire

Creating a fire can be accomplished in a few easy steps:

  1. Open the damper. This creates ventilation through the chimney and ensures that the fire burns vigorously and the smoke vents outside rather than gathering in the room.

  2. Use newspaper for the base of the fire. Roll several sheets into tight tubes, and lay them over the surface of the fireplace grate.

  3. Place kindling on top of the newspaper.

  4. In alternating directions, build up three layers of split logs on top of the kindling, leaving an inch of space between each log.

  5. Light the newspapers at the base of the log stack. Once the fire is burning well, use a fireplace tool to scoop the embers into the center of the hearth.

After the Fire

Safety considerations must still be top of mind after the fire has died down:

  • Never leave the house or go to sleep with a fire still burning. Make sure it is completely out, and place a glass or metal partition in front of the fireplace before you leave it unattended.
  • Never close the damper with hot ashes still in the fireplace. This could force carbon monoxide into the house if the fire heats up again.
  • Fireplace ashes can contain embers that stay hot for up to four days after the fire. If you scoop the ashes out of the fireplace, put them immediately into a METAL container with a lid, and place it far away from the house. Do not attempt to dump or spread the ashes until they are completely cooled.

Fireplaces can add warmth and atmosphere to your home during winter days and nights, but fires must be treated with care and respect. A few safety precautions before, during, and after your fire will prevent potential danger.

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Sources: Fairfax County Government; Syracuse Post-Standard; USFA; The Wall Street Journal.

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