Shelton fire officials: Wood stoves and fireplaces can be dangerous

This is a proper container for removing and storing ashes from fireplaces and wood stoves.
This is a proper container for removing and storing ashes from fireplaces and wood stoves.

Recognizing that wood stoves and fireplaces are a common heat source in homes, the Shelton Fire Prevention Bureau is concerned about the increased threat of an unintended fire as outdoor temperatures drop.

While there are several ways that a stove or fireplace may cause a fire, experience in Shelton and throughout Connecticut demonstrates that fires resulting from improper disposal of ashes and lack of chimney cleaning are among the most common.

Serious fire damage has resulted when homeowners have disposed of ashes in plastic or cardboard containers, boxes and bags.

Creosote build-up in chimneys, which is the result of incomplete combustion, also has caused many fires.

Ted Pisciotta, Shelton assistant chief for fire prevention, said both fire causes are easily preventable.

For example, use of a tightly-covered metal container for removal of ashes that is kept outdoors a safe distance from the house or any combustible structure can prevent a fire and save lives.

Here are some tips from the Shelton Fire Department:

Before use

— Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary by a professional. Even when burning proper wood, creosote can build up over time.

— Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction, and safe design. Purchase wood stoves evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

— Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36 inches) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.

— Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

— Install a stovepipe thermometer to help monitor flue temperatures.

Safe use

— Prevent the build-up of creosote within chimney flue by properly seasoned wood. Do not burn “green” wood.

— Don’t build roaring fires in fireplaces. Keep fires small. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.

— A stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

— Do not burn paper or trash within a stove or fireplace. Flaming paper will rise with the smoke and can ignite creosote build-up or roofing materials.

— Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.

— If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide. Do not burn synthetic logs within stoves.

— Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

— Always use a metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, stop unwanted material from going in, and to help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.

— Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney. Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room.

Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen that should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.

— Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise, you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

— Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials. Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and materials that can burn.

After use

— Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing. Store removed ashes in a tightly-covered metal container and locate outdoors a safe distance from the house or any combustible structure.

Do not place ashes in boxes, bags or containers. Never store ashes on a wood deck, within a garage, or anywhere near the house.

— Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.

Remember smoke alarms

Finally, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly, and keep them clean and equipped with fresh batteries at all times.

Know when and how to call 9--1 for help. And remember to practice your home escape plan.

For more information, the public is encouraged to contact the Shelton Fire Prevention Bureau at 203-924-1555 or on the web under “Public Safety” at