Keep Those Home Fires Burning Safely

CFor many of us, a crackling fire in the fireplace is an indispensable part of the season.  Who doesn’t enjoy the warmth and cheer that emanates from the fireplace on a cold winter evening?

Unfortunately, fireplaces also contribute to needless injuries, loss of life, and property damage annually.  The U.S. Fire Administration estimates heating fires account for 36 percent of all rural home fires each year.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that the leading factor contributing to home heating fires is failure to clean the chimneys of solid-fueled heating equipment such as wood stoves and fireplaces.  A highly combustible, sooty residue known as creosote that accumulates inside a chimney can be ignited by hot gases rising from the fireplace, resulting in a chimney fire that can spread to the surrounding structure.

Other home fires related to the use of fireplaces and wood stoves are attributable to improper disposal of ashes, the use of flammable liquids to start or accelerate a fire, poor separation of combustibles from the fireplace opening, and failure to place a metal screen across the fireplace opening while the fire is burning.

Follow these tips to help ensure your fireplace or wood stove is operated safely:

  • Have the chimney inspected and cleaned at least annually by a qualified contractor.
  • Burn only seasoned hardwoods.  Soft wood with a higher moisture content produces more creosote.
  • Do not restrict the fire’s air supply by closing the glass doors of a fireplace.  This can lead to incomplete combustion and higher levels of creosote.
  • Never use gasoline to start or accelerate a fire.
  • Keep combustibles such as newspapers, cloth decorations and artificial flowers at least three feet away from the fireplace opening.
  • Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Allow the ashes to cool completely before cleaning the fireplace.  Place ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid and store them outside, at least 10 feet away from the house.  Never dump ashes directly into a trash can.
  • Install a metal mesh screen atop the chimney to prevent sparks from landing on the roof.  Regularly remove leaves, pine needles, and other combustible debris from the roof surface and gutters.

A fireplace or wood stove can be a wonderful source of comfort and warmth in one’s home as long as they are used safely and responsibly. Do you have any additional safety tips you’d like to share?

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