December 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

A crackling fire in a fireplace or wood-burning stove often draws family and friends together for fireside chats. While a fire can create pleasant memories that last for years, neglect and failure to observe precautions can create a danger for your home and family.

"Be sure to use fireplaces and wood-burning stoves for their intended purposes and don't burn inappropriate fuels or igniter substances," said Larry Piercy, Extension safety and health specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"Don't use a fireplace or wood-burning stove as an incinerator," he added. "Avoid burning evergreens or wreaths because the flames can flare out of control and send smoke and flying sparks into the room. Holiday wrapping paper might contain metallic materials that can be toxic if burned. It also can ignite suddenly, causing a flash fire.

"Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene or gasoline to start a fire in a fireplace or stove because these liquids could explode and cause a serious injury. Don't use wood that has been treated with preservatives to prevent decay because it can release dangerous chemicals. Burn the proper fuel for wood- and coal-burning stoves. Don't use coal in a wood-burning stove. Also avoid using charcoal or other fuels not intended for a stove."

Another important safety point is to install a wood- or coal-burning stove according to the manufacturer's instructions, according to Piercy. Keep the stove at least 36 inches from combustible materials such as walls, furniture, drapes and the like.

Piercy gave these suggestions to keep a home safe from fire.

* Install smoke alarms. It's good to have one alarm outside each sleeping room and on each floor if you live in a multi-floor home. Vacuum cobwebs and dust away from each alarm and replace batteries at least once a year, or use lithium batteries that last up to six years.

* Have at least one fire extinguisher in the home. Be sure everyone knows how to use it.

* Plan escape routes in case of a fire. Family members should know at least two ways to escape from every room in the home. Conduct a fire drill at least twice a year with everyone in your household. Set a location outside for everyone to meet after leaving the home.

* Keep flammable objects away from stoves and free-standing fireplaces.

* Advise children not to stand too close to the stove or fireplace. Also caution that they could get burned by touching the hot surface of a wood- or coal-burning stove or chimney.

* Use a tight-fitting fire screen around a free-standing fireplace.

* Don't build a fire that's too big for the fireplace because hot sparks and embers might be blown out the chimney and cause a fire.

* Let ashes cool sufficiently before disposing of them. Hot ashes can be "live" more than 24 hours and if disposed of too soon could cause a delayed fire. Put ashes in metal containers and let them cool. Always take ashes well away from buildings before throwing them away.

* Check the chimney several times during the winter to be sure it is clean and doesn't have a big creosote buildup or any blockage that could cause a fire.

* Be sure the fire in a fireplace is completely out before you go to bed.

* When using a wood or coal stove, always provide enough ventilation for combustion and to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376 

Sources: Larry Piercy
(606) 257-3000, Ext. 107

Doug McLaren
(606) 257-2703