Practice fireplace safety in your home

Practice fireplace safety in your home

By Frances Borsodi Zajac  Sep 28, 2018

Cozy and warm, a fire in your fireplace, whether it is gas or wood burning, is perfect as temperatures begin to fall.


But before you use your fireplace this season, remember to think safety.


“You should have your fireplace cleaned yearly and your carbon monoxide and smoke alarms checked,’’ said Aaron Thomas, who is with the fire safety committee for the McClellandtown Volunteer Fire Company.


The U.S. Fire Administration explains you should have your fireplace cleaned to remove creosote, which can ignite and start a chimney fire, while the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission adds on its website, “Chimneys need to be cleaned out frequently and inspected for cracks and obstructions.’’


Even if it’s been years since your fireplace was used, you should have it cleaned and inspected, Thomas said.


“You can still have an animal create a nest in there,’’ observed Thomas. “And just because you see smoke coming out of the chimney doesn’t mean all of the smoke is going out the chimney.’’


Thomas noted properly working carbon monoxide detectors are important when you are using your fireplace because “carbon monoxide can build up in your home and carbon monoxide is silent and deadly.’’


The Centers for Disease Control explained on its website that carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless.


“The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion,’’ the CDC reported. “CO symptoms are often described as flu-like.’’’


Thomas said a carbon monoxide detector has a button on it that you can push to test to see if it is working properly.


“If you’re alarm doesn’t sound, you should have the batteries replaced,’’ said Thomas.


Once you know your fireplace is safe and you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises on its website, “Be certain the damper or flue is open before starting a fire. Keeping the damper or flue open until the fire is out will draw smoke out of the house. The damper can be checked by looking up into the chimney with a flashlight or mirror. Do not close the damper until the embers have completely stopped burning.’’


Be careful what you choose to burn in your fireplace.


Thomas said you should not burn paper or trash.


“Any paper or garbage you put in there will have a greater chance of coming back out the wrong way,’’ said Thomas. “With paper, you take a chance of it catching fire and blowing back at you.’’


The PUC observed, “Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace because these are difficult to control and cause heavy creosote buildup.’’


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports on its website, “Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light or relight a fire because the vapors can explode. Never keep flammable fuels near a fire. Vapors can travel the length of a room and explode.’’


The safety commission added, “Do not treat artificial logs like real logs. Artificial logs are usually made of sawdust and wax and have special burning properties. Be sure to read the instructions on the logs and follow them carefully. Use just one log at a time and do not add another log until the fire is completely out. Never add an artificial log to a natural wood fire that is already burning. Wait at least two hours before adding an artificial log to a natural log fire because it could cause a flare-up.’’


Make sure to use a screen over the fireplace to catch flying sparks as well as logs that might roll out of the fire and onto your floor. The U.S. Fire Administration advises using a tempered glass or metal screen.


“Keep children and pets away from the fireplace — especially children,’’ said Thomas. “They see something new and they want to touch it and experiment with it.’’


Don’t leave your fire unattended, especially if you have children.


The American Academy of Pediatrics advises, “If you leave the room while the fire is burning, or the fireplace is still hot, take your small child with you.’’


The academy also recommends installing a safety screen to reduce a child’s chance of burns from the hot glass front of some fireplaces and placing fireplace tools, accessories, lighters and matches out of a child’s reach.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission added, “Keep flammable materials such as carpets, pillows, furniture or papers away from the fireplace area. Be sure the Christmas tree is not close enough to be ignited by a spark. Be especially careful of accidentally igniting holiday wrapping papers.’’


Make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving your home, the academy said.


Thomas also reminds you to clean your fireplace.


“Take out the ashes after they’ve cooled,’’ Thomas said. “I have a galvanized bucket that I set away from my house, so it will not catch fire.’’


The U.S. Fire Administration advises, “When you clean up, place the ashes inside a metal can with a lid. Store the can outside, away from the home, until the ashes are completely cold.’’


Thomas noted that some people mix ashes and salt to use for traction in the winter.


And it’s always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on hand.


With autumn now here and winter on the horizon, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a fire in your fireplace.


But make sure you follow safety tips when you do.


Thomas said, “It’ll give you peace of mind knowing you’re taking steps in the right direction.’’