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Illinois Country Living

Duane Friend
Duane Friend is the Natural Resources Management Educator for the University of Illinois Extension

Safety & Health:

Don’t Get Burned
Fireplace safety starts with a chimney inspection and fire extinguisher

As we progress through fall and winter, the old fireplace will be used once again. Many people are particular when it comes to the types of wood they want to burn in their fireplaces. Typically, oak, hickory and ash are sought. Each species has its own burning qualities, but on a weight basis, all species of wood generate the same amount of heat.

What makes species like oak and hickory more desirable?

The answer lies in the density, or weight per unit of volume. A cubic foot of oak weighs considerably more than the same volume of soft maple. More maple would have to be cut and used to get the same amount of heat as a lesser volume of hickory or oak.

There are several hardwoods, such as osage orange and black locust, that have higher densities, and therefore higher heat values per cord. These woods, however, are harder to split, harder to start burning, and especially in the case of osage orange, tend to pop or spark.

How much wood is supposed to be in a cord? A standard cord contains 128 cubic feet of wood, but actually is closer to 80 to 90 cubic feet, due to the space between pieces. A facecord and rick are sometimes used interchangeably with cord, but many times these are smaller than a cord.

A standard sized pickup with wood randomly thrown into the top of the bed will equal about one-third of a cord. If the wood is neatly stacked, the amount of wood will be closer to one-half of a cord.

When storing wood, keep the pile covered, off of the ground, and avoid direct contact with buildings. Firewood should be seasoned for six to nine months prior to burning, to remove moisture that sacrifices energy and produces smoke.

As for the fireplace, it’s always prudent to inspect and maintain it yearly. Keep the fireplace in good condition by repairing cracks in the flue lining, bricks and mortar. This is especially important in areas that experienced last springs earthquake.

Inspect the flue and chimney, and keep it clear of soot, and creosote build up.

Have a type ABC fire extinguisher near the fireplace, and install a screen that completely covers the fireplace opening to keep sparks from flying out. Keep flammable materials such as carpets, furniture, paper, logs and kindling at least 3 feet away from the fireplace. Arrange the andirons so logs can’t roll out.

Use only enough fuel to keep the fire at the desired temperature. Avoid large fires.

Keep the damper open when using the fireplace to prevent accumulation of gases.

Most artificial logs are made from sawdust and wax. They do not burn the same as real wood. Use only one at a time. If you use more, they can produce too much heat for some fireplaces.

If a chimney fire does happen, call the fire department or 911 and get everyone out of the house. If possible, close all air inlets and dampers to smother the fire. Discharge a fire extinguisher into the fireplace, or use a chimney fire extinguisher stick. Wet the roof and watch for outside fires caused by sparks. Have your chimney inspected before putting it back into service.

Baking soda can be used to help suffocate a fire in the absence of a fire extinguisher. Check with your local fire department for the availability of fire extinguisher sticks. These devices emit large amounts of smoke to help smother a fire.

While most chimney fires are confined to the chimney itself, the intense heat sometimes ignites surrounding building materials and furnishings.

For more information on burning wood safely, visit the following Web sites:

For More Information:

Duane Friend is the Natural Resources Management Educator for the University of Illinois Extension. Phone 217-243-7424.


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Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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