Lighting and Tending a Fire in a Fireplace

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 21,570
    Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, talks about lighting and tending a fire in a fireplace.

    Rob Neale: Hi! I am Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We are talking about fireplace safety. We are getting to the key issues in building a fire safely. And I am going to build a fire in this little fireplace. One of the things you want to check for to make sure that you have got a safe environment before you start the fire is take a look and make sure you have got a good substantial grate to build the fire on, and also that you have either firebrick or sand or some other solid, noncombustible surface underneath that.

    Now, from time to time we read about people who try to start a fire in their fireplace using some sort of a flammable liquid, like lighter fluid or gasoline or some other similar product. That is absolutely the worst possible thing you could do. It's incredibly dangerous. You can end up burning yourself. You could cause a serious damage. You could kill somebody or burn down your house. And that's something you don't want to do.

    So let's set any of these flammable liquids aside and just forget those altogether. Let's use just good old-fashion newspaper, couple of pieces of firewood, some kindling, and some good old kitchen matches, and we will get this thing going so it's nice and warm and nice and safe.

    Now, the first thing we want to do is take our newspaper and crumple it up. This gives us a lot of surface area around the paper, so that when it ignites, we will be able to get lots if airflow in there and it will burn very, very efficiently. When I put it in the firebox, I put it toward the back, like that, and that keeps the fire in the back of the firebox, where it radiates more heat, but it also keeps the logs and the other pieces of firewood inside, so they don't roll out onto the end of the area.

    Then we are going to take our kindling, our nice dry kindling that we have taken, and its allowed to season over the year, and its been sitting in the house for two or three days to kind of dry up and get up to a room temperature. And we are going to stack that on the grate, across the paper. Now, we don't want to get too much wood in there, because it will be too thick, and if we have too much wood, it won't burn very efficiently. So we are going to stack this up. It doesn't have to be neat and tidy. You have seen people, they stack them up in a nice triangle, like a tipi or something; you don't need to do that. Just get it in there so that you have a nice structure that allows the fire to burn between and among the pieces of wood. Now with that, we will get it started here in just a few seconds. Well, one of the things we want to do early is start a fire small like this to heat up the flue in the chimney. There's cold air in there and if we don't heat it up, we will get a backdraft of smoke coming back into the area. So let's go ahead and light this fire and we will get it heated and get the air flowing in the chimney before we start adding any more firewood to it.

    Now that we have our fire started and we have preheated the flue by getting a little bit of hot air going up in there, we want to start getting the fire and making it a little bit bigger. So we are going to start adding some more logs to it, but we are going to start with smaller pieces and work our way up to larger pieces, until we get a nice roaring fire. These smaller pieces will burn better and it will help us build a coal bed of hot coals beneath the fire, that will help the larger pieces burn more efficiently. We have got our screen up to protect us from any sparks that might come out toward the carpet. We have got a nice cozy fire going here. If we want to make the fire bigger, we just keep adding some more logs until we get to the right size that we want in this burning.

    Now, one of the things that's very important is you always want to have adult supervision when you are having a fire like this. Children are naturally attracted to fire and you just want to make sure they don't get into a situation where they might find themselves playing around with it. So always have adult responsible supervision in keeping a fire going like this.

    Next, we are going to talk about how to control the fire so that it doesn't get out of hand.