It’s getting colder outside, and the holidays are approaching. It’s also the season where the homeowners are most likely to use their fireplaces.  Based on statistics from the Chimney Safety Institute of America, approximately 23,000 house fires were caused by fireplaces or chimneys in 2013.
Fireplaces provide a  great gathering place for the family on cold days, but it’s important that the fires are prepared safely so that a warm, cozy afternoon doesn’t inadvertently turn into a disaster.
Here are some steps you can take to enjoy your fireplace without worry.

Clean Your Chimney Annually

The best practice here is to hire a professional cleaner to service your chimney.  This should be done every year, prior to the first use of the fireplace.  Cleaning the chimney ensures that there is no buildup of dust or old soot,  and also that no animals have taken up residence during the rest of the year.

Open The Flue and Crack A Window

ALWAYS ensure the flue/damper is open before lighting a fire.  This is critical to make sure that the smoke will leave the chimney and not back up into the house. It should remain open until the fire has stopped burning completely (meaning all the embers are out).

Also, if it’s possible (and not unbearably cold outside), crack a window in the same room as the fireplace to keep the air circulating in the room.  This is another way to prevent smoke from building up in the room. Breathing in the residue from the smoke can be especially harmful for older adults, children, or people with breathing problems such as asthma.

Prepare the Fireplace Before Use

All ashes from previous fires should be cleaned out before putting new logs in.  In addition, the area around the fireplace should be clear.  There should be in nothing in front of the fireplace, such as piles of magazines or newspapers, or anything else flammable you might keep there.  You should also have a screen of some sort (mesh or glass) to prevent errant sparks from escaping.  The second point is especially important if you have young children who might wander too close to the fire.

Build The Fire Properly

Use a dense dry wood (oak instead of pine, for example) for your fire. Softer woods produce creosote, a tar-like substance that causes residue in the chimney and if not cleaned, can cause chimney fires. Don’t overload the fireplace with logs, and stack them on a metal grate, with the larger logs on the bottom.  To start the fire,avoid using flammable liquids and instead use kindling such as a match, newspaper, or small twigs, in order to get the logs to catch fire.

Enjoy The Fire…But Use Caution

Always  be aware of any random sparks that can jump out without warning.  Also, always keep a fire extinguisher near by in case of an emergency. Lastly, as we mentioned before, enjoy the fire but from a safe distance.
Fireplaces can be beautiful heat sources and lovely gathering places, but there are subtle dangers every time you use one.  Enjoy gathering around the open hearth, but always be on alert, and practice fire safety any time you are around an open flame.