I have enough Irish in me to allow me to wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t have enough to allow me to enjoy green beer, but I love Celtic designs, and I enjoy the lilt of poetry. I also have one Irish trait that can be troublesome: I sometimes get the ‘feeling’ that I really, really need to do or say something. Not because anyone I know needs to hear it or have it happen, but… but because I need to say or do it.
So with this post.
I was setting the morning’s fire in my wood stove. It heats things very well, and the window gives me the pleasure of watching the fire. Someone described a burning log as being the result of all the sunshine, stored within the wood over years of growth, uncoiling and returning to the air. Pretty thought. However it comes about, it is warming and beautiful.
I scooped out the ashes, set them in their bin, lifted an eyebrow at some glowing embers safely inside the bin – and the thought hit me – You Must Write A Post. And I remembered why. Here is my post, about having a fire. The ‘why’ will be at the bottom of the post.
I have a wood-burning stove inset into my fireplace. I went with this because while I enjoy fires in the winter, it occurred to me that I could cut down fuel bills by burning ‘smart’ fires. So I bought an insert by a company named Regency. I wish my fireplace looked as nice as this, but this is the model:
It has worked very well, especially last year when we were without power for a week. The platform at the top gets hot enough to boil water or, if you’re patient, heat a frying pan. In fact, when the power came back on last year, I had just put a casserole with chili and hot dogs on to heat. After gasping ‘What on earth?’ and realizing that we did have power again, I shrugged and continued cooking the hot dogs.
That’s my situation with a wood stove. I had an open fireplace before that, with a number of important things. Whether you have a wood stove or an open fireplace, the things I am going to list are very important. This is what you need to have:
Something to screen the fire from the surrounding area. Depending on what you’re burning, bits of flaming material can fly out of the fire and onto your floor with some pretty bad consequences. My wood stove has a glass door. Some have metal doors. That’s good. Just be careful not to come up against them. They can become very hot.
What of an open fireplace? You need a screen. Here is one I like: It is mesh, so air can circulate. (The insurance industry has things they call ‘friendly fires’ and ‘unfriendly fires’. I have heard a lot of hilarity and annoyance about those terms, but there is a chilling truth to them.
A fire, controlled and burning where it is supposed to be is a thing of beauty, warming and comforting. Put that pile of flame in the middle of your living room carpet and it is a dreadful danger. Screens will help keep your fire ‘friendly’.
If you look at the photo above, you will see that there is an expanse of what appears to be black stone or tile between the fireplace and the very nice wooden floor. I think a fire inspector in my New England home state would find this one a little too narrow. Wider is better, just make certain it is nob-flammable. Better still, talk to the Fire Marshal or a reputable store that sells and services wood stoves.
Fires produce a lot of ashes. These need to be scooped out regularly. You will need to have, beside the fireplace a receptacle for the ashes. You want something that will hold the ashes, as well as any glowing embers you did not happen to notice, and not go up in flames. Galvanized steel works just fine. You can get some prettier ones. Here is a photo of a black ash can and sturdy shovel. I have the shovel, but a different (uglier) can. I may get this one. This is listed on eBay. Do a search with this: Wood Stove Ash Bucket & Shovel Set.
Whatever you get, make sure there is a lid that will stay on if, say, your toddler or your dog happens to knock it over. Ashes on carpet are hard to get out. Embers are worse.
I could list tools you need: a lighter (the long-ended ones are good), a poker – get one with a hook, which will allow you to shift logs easily. A dustpan – of metal – and a brush.
You also must get your chimney cleaned annually.
But why am I posting this?
Last year, a house in a historic neighborhood burned down on Christmas morning. Two grandparents and three young children were killed. The mother of the children was dragged from the house by her boyfriend. She survived. The Fire Marshal completed his investigation and issued his report.
The cause of the fire? A stupid mistake. Never mind who made it. When the cold fireplace was swept clear of ashes, the person performing the task placed the cold ashes in a plastic bag in one of the rooms of the house. As I saw this morning, dumping the cold ashes into the steel bin, glowing embers can survive a long time. Sure enough there was one. I placed the lid on the bin (smothers the ember) and remembered.
If you have a fireplace and are using it and not following my advice, please read this post and take some steps. At the absolutely very least put in a hearth apron and take your swept-out ashes outside and far from your house.
Do I sound bossy? It’s the Irish in me.