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Fireplace Safety for Your Wood-Burning Fireplace

Your fireplace is one of your home’s most welcome features when the winter weather is at its coldest. A roaring fire can keep your home toasty and warm on even the coldest winter’s day, and there’s something magical about the dancing flames.

Unfortunately, fireplaces can quickly become one of your home’s most dangerous features if not used safely. The National Fire Protection Association estimated that heating equipment, primarily fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, was involved in about 53,600 house fires in 2011, leading to $893 million in property damage, 1,520 injuries, and 400 deaths.

This winter, minimize the risk of severe fire damage, injury, and worse by observing these safety tips for your wood-burning fireplace.

Improve Your Overall Fire Preparedness

The first step to ensuring your fireplace is safe is ensuring that your home is fire-safe. Make sure your fire safety equipment and planning are in place and up-to-date:

  • You should have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house.
  • Make sure to have a smoke detector installed:
    • In each bedroom
    • In the hallway outside of each sleeping area
    • In each common area on each floor of the house
  • Change the batteries in each detector once every six months. (As a convenient memory tool, change batteries every year when we “spring forward” and “fall back” to/from daylight savings time).
  • Have at least one Class A-B-C fire extinguisher located on each floor of the house.
  • Make an evacuation plan and ensure everyone in the house knows how and where to exit in the event of a fire.

Have Your Wood Burning Fireplace Inspected and Cleaned Each Year

During winter, smoke and soot from your fireplace accumulate in the flue. Most commonly, this takes the form of a black, oily solid called creosote, which builds up inside the flue. If left unaddressed, creosote can cause several safety hazards, including completely blocking the flue and igniting, causing a difficult-to-fight chimney fire.

Other fireplace components, including the damper and grate, can also wear over time and cause dangerous conditions.

By ordering an annual fireplace inspection and cleaning, you can go into the winter months knowing that your flue is clean and free from excess creosote buildup and that the mechanical components of your fireplace are in good working order.

Never Burn Paper or Green/Wet Wood in Your Wood Burning Fireplace

One common cause of fireplace-related house fires is a spark or ember coming out of the fireplace and igniting something nearby. The most common causes for that unfortunate occurrence are burning paper or green/wet wood in the fireplace.

Unlike wood, burning paper is lightweight enough to float on the hot air being produced by a fire. It’s incredibly easy for a burning piece of paper to float out of the fireplace and into the room to ignite curtains, carpet, or furniture.

Green wood also presents this danger. Unseasoned firewood contains pockets of water that eventually heat into steam and can cause the wood to explode, sending burning embers across the room.

Only burn well-seasoned firewood in your fireplace.

Provide Adequate Ventilation for Your Wood Burning Fireplace

Your fireplace requires plenty of oxygen to burn cleanly and safely. Without ample oxygen, the fire will burn cooler and considerably smokier and emit much more soot and other harmful chemicals.

You should always crack a window in the room with the fireplace to provide this oxygen. This practice won’t only allow the fire to draw in enough additional oxygen to burn as hot and clean as possible but will also provide for the ventilation of carbon monoxide out of the house, keeping this deadly gas from accumulating to dangerous levels.

Never Leave Your Wood Burning Fireplace Unattended

The best guard against fire damage from your wood-burning fireplace is your watchfulness. Never leave a burning fireplace unattended.

  • If you must leave home, ensure the fire and all embers are fully extinguished before you go.
  • Before you go to bed, extinguish the fire in an open fireplace. If you have a wood-burning stove (freestanding or insert), you can leave the stove burning overnight if you first ensure that the door is securely closed and the damper completely open.

To safely extinguish a fire in your wood-burning fireplace, first use a poker to spread out all embers and ashes into a low mound. Then, cover the fire with ash or baking soda until all flames are extinguished. Watch the fireplace for a few minutes to ensure it doesn’t flare back up.

Dispose of Your Wood Burning Fireplace’s Ashes Safely

A considerable number of both house fires and wildfires are started by the improper disposal of hot ash from a fireplace. Embers in the ash from a wood-burning fireplace can remain dangerous for a week, and if given a fresh source of fuel – like the trash in your garbage can or the grass, leaves, and other flammable materials in your yard – can easily ignite another fire. Use these steps to clean the ash out of your fireplace:

  • Only remove ashes from your fireplace when the fire has been out for several hours, ideally overnight.
  • Remove the ashes into a metal can with a tight-fitting lid to limit the oxygen supply to the embers.
  • Place the can away from combustibles and at least 10 feet away from your house.
  • Leave the ashes in the closed can for at least seven days before disposing of them.
  • Dispose of the ashes by dumping them in a safe area. They can provide excellent nutrition for flowers and vegetable crops, so putting the cold ashes onto flowerbeds and into garden plot locations and working them into the soil can lead to a greener spring!

If a Fireplace Mishap Has Left Your Home Suffering From Fire Damage, Contact the Certified Fire Damage Restoration Team at AfterCare Restoration: 215.515.1000

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Because of our expertise and reputation for 5-star customer service, AfterCare Restoration is the leader in fire damage restoration and smoke soot damage restoration in Lehigh, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. AfterCare Restoration is a certified firm by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the leading training agency in the disaster restoration industry.

Our team of IICRC-certified technicians is trained with the best methods and technology to clean up any size of fire damage and restore your property. We abide by the most stringent industry standards, meaning you can trust our team to do the job right the first time!


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