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How to Build a Better Fire in Your Fireplace

Historically, the hearth has marked the spot where we’ve gathered to cook, warm up or simply muse over the events of the day. And that tradition still burns bright in America. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports that more than one-third of us use a fireplace, wood stove or similar fuel-burning device as a primary heat source in our homes.

Knowing how to build a fire in the fireplace can be a hot piece of information on a cold winter’s night. If you’ve never started a fire in a fireplace, here’s everything you need to get started.

Gather Supplies to Build a Fire

  • Extra-long wooden safety strike matches. The longer the better; their length can prevent you from singeing your fingers.
  • Kindling. Small pieces of dry wood or twigs and/or natural fire starters (Never use flammable liquids, the USFA says).
  • Newspaper sheets. Uncoated newspaper (Don’t use coated (glossy) paper, cardboard or household garbage, the Environmental Protection Agency says).
  • Seasoned hardwood. Appropriately split, well-seasoned firewood.
  • Grate.A wrought iron fireplace grate that fits your fireplace and allows air to flow under logs.
  • Screen. Fireplace screen or panels that sufficiently cover the entire width of your hearth’s opening.
  • Utensils.Wrought iron fireplace utensils, including poker, tongs, shovel and brush.
  • Ash bucket with lid. Metal ash bucket with snuggly fitting lid.

Things to Check in Advance

Clean the fireplace area. Be sure all flammable materials, such as drapes, magazines, books, clothing and home décor items, are well away from the fireplace. If you have a mantel, check that nothing is hanging off of it.

Check the chimney. Make sure the protective liners of your chimney are in good working order. Search for a certified chimney sweep to clean and inspect your fireplace and chimney.

Clear the air. Be sure the room where your fireplace is located has been well ventilated and is free of any flammable fumes and gases.

How to Build the Fire

Step 1: Check that the fireplace damper (the movable vent that allows ventilation) is fully open.

Step 2: Roll several newspaper sheets into tight tubes and lay them on the support grate. The USFA suggests keeping the grate in the rear of the fireplace.

Step 3: Lay kindling on top of your bed of newspapers.

Step 4: Add a couple of pieces of split, seasoned wood, lengthwise.

Step 5: Add another piece of firewood on top, placing the log in an alternating direction.

Step 6: Safely strike a wooden match, and then touch it to a few spots on the newspapers to light the fire.

Be sure you avoid overfilling your hearth (the USFA suggests building smaller fires that burn completely and produce less smoke), and never use liquid accelerants such as kerosene or gasoline to hurry it along.  Now, you’ll just have to prepare to stay with the fire until it burns out naturally. And, then, once the fire is out, place the cooled ash in your ash bucket and set it outside, at least 10 feet away from any building, the USFA says.


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