Learn to burn safely

October 30, 1997


Staff Writer

Whether you use your wood stove or fireplace to heat your home or just crave an occasional crackling fire to warm your spirit, it's important to take the proper safety measures before you light your first fire of the season, experts warn.

That means having your chimney and stove connector pipes inspected and, if needed, cleaned or repaired, say local fire officials and chimney safety advocates.

Dirty, blocked or broken chimneys and faulty wood stove installation are major causes of home fires this time of year, local fire officials said.


"We're just getting into the heating season and people are firing them up ... It's very easy to get a chimney fire if you haven't taken the proper precautions," said Lt. Justin Mayhue of the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Company.

It's vital that you have your chimney thoroughly inspected at the start of the season and periodically to check for creosote buildup, and make sure the flue is intact and that there are no blockages, such as animal nests, Mayhue said.

Don't skimp on needed cleaning or repairs, he said.

It's important that wood stoves be installed to the manufacturer's specifications, which dictate how far away the stove should be from combustible walls, said Hagerstown Fire Marshal John Hersh.

Don't assume you can just burn anything burnable in your fireplace or wood stove, Hersh said.

If your stove calls for wood pellets, then use wood pellets not some other kind of pellet or wood, he said.

In a regular wood-burning stove or fireplace, avoid sappy woods, like pine or cedar, that will build up creosote residue in your chimney and increase the chance of a chimney fire, Hersh said.

Never burn trash, he said.

While the fire is burning, use a screen to keep hot embers from escaping, Hersh said.

Make sure young children are supervised by adults at all times, he said.

Once the fire burns out, be careful disposing of the ashes, which should be given plenty of time to cool in a tightly covered metal container away from combustible materials, Hersh said.

Other safety tips from the Chimney Safety Institute of America in Gaithersburg, Md., and fire officials include:

-- Use seasoned - or properly dried - wood only.

-- Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper or Christmas trees, which can spark a chimney fire.

-- Build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke.

-- You can burn a little pine or even construction scraps as long as you use them mainly for kindling.

-- If you burn scraps, beware of treated or painted wood, which can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other toxic compounds when burned.

-- Don't leave wood stove burning unattended.

-- Never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter or other flammable liquids to start a fire.

-- Don't store dry wood near or under stove.

-- Be careful of burning embers when tending a fire.

-- Equip your home with adequate fire extinguishers.

-- Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures when wood stoves are in use, so you can adjust burning practices as needed.

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