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Fireplace Safety

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One of the nicest things about the fall and winter is using the fireplace.  There aren’t many people that use the fireplace more than me.  As nice as a fireplace is, there are some things that you need to keep in mind when you purposely set a fire in your living room.

Before we get into the safety stuff about your fireplace, make sure you use the right kind of wood.  You can find free firewood easily if you look for it throughout the year. When people cut down trees they usually don’t want the wood.  There are some woods that aren’t good to burn in your fireplace.  Pine is too soft and leaves a lot of residue inside your chimney.  That nice smelling pine will pop, crackle and leave your chimney unsafe.  There might not be a lot of people looking at that pile of willow that was cut down.  Unless you like the smell of burning diapers, don’t bring that willow home.  Wood for the fireplace must also be dry to burn well.  Split it and leave it stacked until it gets dried out.

There are about 20,000 chimney fires every year in the U.S., which cause over 100 million dollars in damage. The good thing is that most of these fires can be prevented by making sure your fireplace is in good condition. You may want to hire a professional chimney cleaner to clean and check your fireplace.

There are some simple things you check yourself on your fireplace. If your fireplace hasn’t been used for a longtime, make sure you check inside for debris that might have been dragged by birds over the summer.  Birds often try to nest in the top of chimneys or inside the chimney.  Before you light up the fire, open the damper and shine a flashlight up the chimney and look for debris, or signs of deteriorating lining in the chimney. Debris from bird nests can either block the smoke from going up the chimney, or it can cause a fire where it doesn’t belong.  Fires at the top of the chimney early in the year are usually caused by a burning bird nest.

Make sure the damper opens and closes smoothly.  Always make sure the damper is fully open before starting a fire.  You will know in a hurry by the smoke backing up into the house if you forget to open the damper.  Once you get that fire going, make sure someone stays home to keep an eye on the fire.  Don’t start a fire if you know you are going to leave.  Don’t overload the fireplace. I once had a nice fire going and a few logs decided to roll out onto the rug.  Luckily the fire wasn’t left unattended and those logs were put right back in the fire. I did need to replace a little carpeting.  Make sure you don’t remove hot ashes from the fireplace.  Fireplaces can cause a fire in the garbage or even the garage when hot ashes are mixed with combustible material.

There are a lot of articles about fireplace safety online.  Take a few minutes and read up on fireplace safety.  Enjoy your fireplace safely.

By John Morse

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