Nothing ruins a winter evening faster than having your cozy, crackling fire escape the fireplace and start crackling on the carpet or in the attic. An exciting visit from the fire department isn’t the same as a quiet evening with friends and family. A few fire safety practices can keep your evenings cozy, the fire in the fireplace, and the firemen out of your house.
Safety for the fireplace:
The fireplace must not have cracks in the firebox or the lining of the chimney that could let sparks escape into the attic or walls. The bricks that line the firebox must be “fire brick”, not ordinary brick. The damper has to open and close easily. Before you build a fire for the first time in any fireplace, hire a licensed inspector for a fire safety inspection.
The chimney should be cleaned before every heating season, both to remove soot and resin build-up that can cause a chimney fire and to make sure no birds or bats have moved in.
Safety for the room where the fireplace is:
The floor around the fireplace should be covered with a fireproof hearth material such as tile or metal. Any hearth rug or other decorative items used near the fire should be fireproof or fire retardant. Basket and broom collections or stale holiday garlands can explode into flames from a tiny spark.
Install metal mesh curtains or glass safety doors on the fireplace to prevent sparks from flying into the room and onto the children if a log pops or shifts. They will block some heat, but will also help keep the smoke in the fireplace too.
Don’t leave the fireplace alone unless the fire safety curtains are closed.
Safety for building and maintaining a fire:
Don’t burn trash in the fire box because it can burn hotter than firewood and crack the chimney. This could lead to a chimney fire.
Don’t burn fresh-cut wood. Don’t burn high-resin wood like pine or eucalyptus unless you have the chimney checked and cleaned frequently. Hardwoods and low-resin evergreens like pinyon and juniper are better.
Don’t build huge bonfires in the fireplace. The flames should not be tall enough to enter the chimney.
This is not a barbecue. Don’t slosh lighter fluid onto the logs. Start a small fire using a half-page of newspaper and stacked twigs and small branches, then add medium-sized firewood, then one large log for sustained heat production. Wrist-sized branches will blaze, thigh-sized logs will not blaze, just burn slowly with lots of heat.
Don’t pile logs, especially the round artificial ones, into tall stacks. A rolling log can push under a mesh fire safety screen, roll across the floor and set things on the far side of the room afire. Split logs are less likely to roll and throw sparks than full logs.
Safety for putting out a fire and discarding the ashes:
The usual statement to the media as the trash can is burning is, “But I thought the fire was out“. Coals can smolder for hours after the last visible flame, so proper fire safety requires checking the ashes before discarding them.
Let the fire burn down. The next morning, spread the ashes. Pass your hand over the ashes, a few inches above them, testing for hot coals. If you find hot spots, squirt some water on them.
Don’t use your vacuum cleaner to pick up the cold ashes. They are too fine and will ruin the motor. Dampen the ashes with mist of water, then sweep the ashes into a dustpan and dump them into a metal bucket for temporary storage. When trash collection day comes, transfer the cold ashes into a bag, seal it, and place it in your trash can.