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By Christian M. Hartley
For Senior Voice 

Remember safety when firing up the woodstove


October 1, 2023 | View PDF

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There is nothing that sounds like winter more than crackling wood in a woodstove and the thuds and groans of children stacking firewood. But it's important to remember that a maintained stove is a safe stove.

Get an annual inspection from a chimney sweep. They'll check for creosote buildup, damage and function in the chimney. To find one, contact local woodstove vendors and ask them for referrals. Ask friends with fireplaces to get referrals or remind them to clean their own. Add a second inspection annually in January if you can.

Clean the firebox after every use. To clean, remove unburned wood and ash and place into a metal bucket and cool outside for at least seven days before disposing into a dumpster, or use the ash for projects like your garden, an ashpit for chickens to clean themselves in, or to sprinkle outdoor in a gravel area.

Chimney caps are very important on chimneys to keep birds, animals and debris from entering your chimney. They can also catch embers as they exit if you have an ember screen on your cap, which is a very cheap addition. In addition, it will keep rain and snow out of the stack.

Regularly check for cracks in your stovepipe and watch for smoke escaping from the fireplace when It's closed. Cracks allow smoke and carbon monoxide to escape and can also allow fresh air to enter that you cannot control and increase the temperature, possibly resulting in a chimney fire. Make repairs immediately.

Burn seasoned hardwoods like birch, poplar, willow or alder. Softwoods like pine, spruce or cedar are okay to start a fire but never to burn for very long. Cottonwood is a medium between the two in that it doesn't produce a lot of heat and sparks but it also doesn't burn so slowly that it is incomplete.

Overloading your fireplace can lead to overheating and damage. Follow your manufacturer's guidelines for this, but a good rule of thumb is to never fill a firebox more than the height of the bricks inside of it. If you do not have bricks or are putting your own in, keep it under one-third filled.

Too much wood, burning soft wood, and too much air will increase the temperature of the fire. You can tell that a fire is too hot by several things. A whooshing sound inside the firebox or chimney is a sign that it is drawing in oxygen faster than it is designed to. A red glow at the base or along the chimney is another key indicator. If either of these are present, your risk of a chimney fire is significant and you need to mitigate the hazard immediately. Decrease the amount of air getting in by closing the air intake or closing the flue, or open the door and throw a coffee mug of water onto the fire to decrease it and immediately shut the door. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have a chimney fire.

Keep the area around your fireplace clear of flammable materials, including curtains, furniture and rugs for at least. Do not allow anything or anyone to get within 3 feet of the fireplace. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your fireplace to ensure your family's safety. If you notice any issues with your fireplace, call a professional for prompt repairs. Do not put your life at risk for a quick or cheap fix.

Christian M. Hartley is a 40-year Alaskan resident with over 25 years of public safety and public service experience. He is the City of Houston Fire Chief and also serves on many local and state workgroups, boards and commissions related to safety. He lives in Big Lake with his wife of 19 years and their three teenage sons.


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