The NFPA estimates that fireplaces and chimneys cause 15,000 house fires per year in the United States.
Fireplaces that are poorly maintained, are more likely to cause a house fire than well-maintained and well-managed fireplaces.
The following are some tips to help you make sure you keep yourself and your family safe than using your fireplace.
1. Clean your Fire Box after Every Fire
You should have a firebox and grate above your fireplace hearth, upon which the fire burns. This setup will protect your place and catch the ashes to minimize the risk of a runaway fire.
You can use your fireplace tools, a broom, or a scoop to clean out the ashes and leftover coals from inside the fireplace. Make sure you don’t burn yourself – let the coals cool first.
The most significant risk in this instance is that there will be a build-up of coals over time in the firebox. These coals are highly susceptible to catching alight again if a new agent introduces to the mix – a little heat, a lit ember, a spark, or even a light breeze if they’re still hot from the last fire.
2. Keep your Chimney Maintained
Carbon particles cause build-up on the walls of chimneys over time. If there is too much gunk build-up in the chimney, it can become a fire hazard
3. Ensure no Fuels are within 3 feet of the fireplace
The NFPA suggests that you should keep the area surrounding your fire clean and clear of anything that might cause a fire to spread outside of the fire itself.
Typical culprits include loose paper, newspaper, tissues, kindling, and fire lighting matches.
The best thing you can do to keep the area around your fireplace clean is to get a fireplace tool kit and log rack. A fireplace tool kit usually includes a broom, shovel, tongs, and poker. You can use the broom and shovel to clean out the area around the fire and remove any old loose charcoals from previous fires. In addition, you can use the poker and tongs to ensure your fire is contained within the fireplace while it burns.
4. Use a Fireplace Screen
Fireplace screens serve two purposes. Firstly, you need to protect your children and pets from accidentally stumbling into a fire.
But it can also help to minimize the chances of embers spitting out into the living room. Spitting embers is a considerable fireplace hazard.
A recent NFPA report on house fires outlined a case study that US firefighters recently attended:
“… there was no protective glass or screen in front of the fireplace. When a gust of wind entered the house through the window opening, hot coals were blown onto the sofa and spread to other combustibles.”
This fire, unfortunately, destroyed the entire home along with causing personal injury to the homeowners.
5. Only Burn Approved Fuels
Being in an enclosed room with fire is never ideal for your health, even though we all love an excellent natural fire. However, with good ventilation, you can minimize most risks. But you don’t want to add toxic flammable items into the mix.
You should only burn natural fireplace wood or other fuels designed for indoor fireplaces. Throwing plastics and other trash into the fireplace can be hazardous to your health.
The best option is to buy firewood from a trusted seller. Some pine woods, for example, can cause an uncomfortable amount of smoke to build up in your house. Similarly, burning some paper inks can let off toxic fumes; burning driftwood can let off chemicals absorbed in the ocean; and burning household trash can release fumes from glues, plastics, etc., embedded in the product.
6. Never Leave a Fire Unattended
This one goes without saying. And yet, it’s probably the rule that most people widely break!
Even the most well-maintained fireplace fires can spit out embers with no notice. However, a fire can ignite rapidly if the embers land on a flammable item – even a couch.
7. Keep a Carbon Monoxide Detector in your home
Carbon monoxide gas is an odorless but deadly gas that is a byproduct of combustion.
Usually, an operating chimney is enough to keep carbon monoxide gas levels safely low. But there is always the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning around fires – mainly if the chimney is not operating correctly. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector active in your home.
8. Keep a Fire Extinguisher Nearby
Needless to say, if you have a fire going on inside your house, you’ll need a fire extinguisher. A home fire extinguisher should be an ABC-rated extinguisher. These extinguishers put out regular, electrical, and gas/liquid fires. We usually recommend a 5-pound extinguisher for the kitchen and a 10-pound extinguisher for the garage.
Remember a “Clean Chimney is a Happy Chimney”