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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Don't Forget Safety While Enjoying Fireplaces and Stoves

LAS CRUCES--Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces not only provide extra heat but give homes a cozy feeling this time of the year. Care should be taken, however, to prevent fires and burns.

A few simple practices will help ensure a safe and enjoyable winter season around the stove or fireplace, said Craig Runyan, farm safety specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

"First and foremost, before the stove is ever used, the installation of the unit is a main concern," Runyan said. "Heat from an improperly installed unit can cause surrounding materials, such as drywall and framing, to ignite." Installation should be done by a qualified person following manufacturer recommendations.

Chimneys, flues and connector pipes should be checked and cleaned prior to seasonal use to avoid dangerous creosote buildup. "It's not uncommon that the creosote buildup in the flues and pipes can actually catch fire inside the pipe," he said. The fire can then become hot enough to spread. This is particularly important when burning unseasoned or other heavy smoke-producing firewood.

Lumber left over from a construction project should be examined before being burned in a home fireplace or wood stove, Runyan advised. Some chemically treated lumbers should not be burned in the house. Chromated copper arsenate-pressure-treated lumber, for example, can cause a variety of human health conditions simply by inhaling the dust or smoke, or touching the burned ash. In one case, burning the treated wood caused arsenic poisoning. "If you're unsire whether or not a lumber if safe to use as firewood, it is best to discard the in another way," he said.

The size of the fire needs to be properly balanced for the particular heated unit. "Stoves and fireplaces are designed only for certain sized fires, and to maximize the heat output from those fires," Runyan said. "You don't need a roaring bonfire inside those things in order to get good efficiency from the fireplace."

Overheating can actually melt parts of the unit, cause damage and, perhaps, allow the fire to spread to surrounding areas. Also, be sure that fireplaces are covered with screens or doors to contain sparks, especially with types of wood that pop and spark.

No home that uses wood-burning stoves, heaters or fireplaces should be without a fire extinguisher. A multi-purpose class ABC extinguisher will work well for most fires that occur in the home. Smoke detectors-also are valuable tools.

As a further safety precaution, every family should have a fire escape plan, Runyan said. The plan should be simple and easily understood by children. "The plan should include a meeting point outside the home so family members can be accounted for quickly and people don't have to go back into a burning building to look for someone," Runyan said.

Fire drills can be done throughout the year, even during warm weather when other types of fire are possible.