Be smart when you burn wood at home this winter

Be smart when you burn wood at home this winter

Fireplaces can add a feeling of warmth and comfort to any home, but making sure the chimney is properly cleaned by a professional and taking steps to ensure safety can deter some calamitous results this winter.


It’s winter, and the time to crank up the wood stove or fireplace creates a heartwarming, inviting scene in the home. Watching the flames flicker and feeling the warmth emanate from the fireplace or stove can create a wonderful aura around the house.

However, there are many pitfalls that can turn a wonderful evening into a disaster, and much of that centers around the removal and storage of hot ashes.

Every year garages and homes are burned to the ground due to improper removal and storage of hot ashes. Ashes can remain potent and dangerous for days, and it is often assumed that hot ashes can be placed in combustible containers after the embers die down and the ash turns gray. That is an assumption that can be deadly.

According to Kyle Miller, Holmes Fire District # 1 in Millersburg, oftentimes people will place hot coals in uncovered metal buckets or combustible bins and placed on decks, in garages and just outside of homes, inviting the ashes and embers to reignite and create a destructive scenario.

“Nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them, and one way to make sure that is the case is to make intelligent, informed decisions when it comes to anything involving fire this winter, when fires are more apt to happen,” Miller said.

This is the time of year when people crank up the heat with fireplaces and wood burners. Miller said a contributor to fires resulting from wood-burning devices is not from the fire itself, but from the result of not properly caring for the ashes and coals when the fire is done or they clear out coals during the burning process.

“People often won’t completely remove hot coals and ashes far enough from the home, putting them right outside the home, in the garage or on the deck,” Miller said. “Those wood ashes remain hot and dangerous for a long time, longer than a lot of people think they might. Even though ashes may not look dangerous, they can reignite and cause fires.”

In playing it safe when it comes to wood-burning devices, following a specific set of rules from start to finish can ensure a satisfying experience in keeping the family warm and comfortable this winter:

—Make sure the wood stove is installed to the manufacturer specifications.

—Have a certified chimney sweep check the chimney and have a professional make any repairs that might be needed.

“Too many people don’t get their chimney or wood stove checked and cleaned properly, and chimney fires can occur when that build-up is left unchecked,” Miller said.

—Select wood, preferably hardwood, that has been seasoned for six months to one year.

—When starting a fire in the stove, use a small amount of paper covered with small sticks of wood.

—Never douse gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid on the wood to get a quick fire started and never burn trash inside your burner.

—Keep all flammable items at least 3 feet from the burner.

—If you have a chimney fire, the first action to take place should be to call the fire department.

—It is very important to dispose of wood ashes in a metal container with a lid and store the container outdoors, away from any structure.

—Make sure there is a working smoke detector in the home. Practice fire-escape plans, knowing at least two ways to get out of the building.

“It just comes down to being responsible and giving your wood burner or fireplace the attention it deserves before you start a fire this winter,” Miller said. “That even goes for a furnace.”

Hot ash disposal

Hot coals can hide amongst the ashes and stay hot for up to four days — sometimes longer. These coals were once used to reignite fires when people did not have an easy way to light a fire. But now these coals are a danger to our forests, fields, homes and more if they are tossed out while still hot. So what should you do with those ashes from your fireplace or wood stove?

Ash containers are a great way to store hot coals and ashes from a fireplace or wood stove. It is recommended to add a little water after putting ash in to be sure any hot coals are extinguished. The ash should be stored away from anything flammable in case any cinders happen to escape. Be sure the lid on your ash container is tightly on.

Once sure ashes are no longer hot and there aren’t any coals still burning, there are a few productive things to do with the ashes.

Use your ash around plants that thrive in alkaline soil. Mix with water to make a paste to clean wood blemishes and water rings on wood. They can be sprinkled around the perimeter of your garden to repel slugs and snails. You can add them to your compost pile.

By playing it safe with a wood stove and/or fireplace, people can prevent accidents from happening and experience and enjoy a heartwarming home this winter.

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