There’s nothing quite like a crackling fire to chase away the chills of a frigid wintry night. A blaze roaring in the fireplace is naturally inviting and connects us with the past, when fireplaces were the go-to heating source for homes.
Although modern appliances are now used to keep many houses warm, federal officials say more than one-third of Americans still use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired devices as primary heat sources. With that in mind, here are some safety tips to consider:
- Burn only dry, well-seasoned hardwood in fireplaces to reduce the buildup of creosote, which is a tar-laced by-product of burning wood. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
- Since most chimney fires result from an accumulation of creosote, the chimney flue should be inspected and cleaned before each heating season. The same precautions should be used for stovepipes.
- Don’t use flammable liquids to start a fire.
- Make sure the fireplace damper is open before starting a fire. And don’t close it until the fire is out and the embers are cold. If a damper is closed while a fire is burning, it can cause smoke and carbon monoxide to accumulate in the home.
- Prevent sparks from flying out of the fireplace by using a metal mesh screen.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors.
- Never leave children unattended near a fireplace or stove.
- For fireplaces with glass doors, leave the doors open while burning a fire. This ensures that the fire receives enough air for complete combustion and prevents the buildup of creosote in the chimney.
- Most glass doors have a metal mesh screen that should be closed when the doors are open. For doors without a screen, a separate metal mesh screen should be placed around the doors to help keep sparks and embers from getting out of the fireplace.
- Install fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
- Keep air inlets on wood stoves open to avoid creosote buildup.
- Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
- Never burn trash, cardboard boxes or debris in a fireplace or wood stove.
- Place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a sturdy supporting grate.
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Allow ashes to cool before disposal. Place them in a tightly covered metal container and keep the container outside and a significant distance from any building. For extra safety, saturate the ashes with water before disposal. And never empty ashes into a trash can.
- Place a nonflammable rug in front of the fireplace to prevent errant sparks or embers from damaging or igniting the floor/carpeting.
- Use fireplace tools to handle burning logs and maintain fires. Never use your hands.
For more tips and advice, check out the website of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and the U.S. Fire Administration Fireplace and Home Fire Safety website.