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fireplace fireWith winter in full swing, many of us are dealing with bitter cold weather and snow accumulation. When the outdoor temperatures are frigid, there is nothing more inviting than a warm and relaxing fireplace fire. The glow of a hearth fire not only helps add some extra warmth to a room, it also makes it feel instantly more cozy and relaxing.

While just about anyone can toss some wood in the fireplace, light up a match, and start a small fire, it takes skill to produce a safe, long-lasting, fire that will help warm a room and its occupants.

How to Build a Safe and Warm Fireplace Fire

Each year, an average of 22,300 home fires are caused by a poorly maintained fireplace fire or chimney structure. Here are a few important tips to help you ensure the safety of your home and family, while enjoying the soft warmth of a proper fireplace fire.

Keep Your Chimney Clean and Free from Obstructions

As you are thinking about basking in the warmth of your fireplace, you probably aren’t considering the condition of your chimney. While your chimney may add attractive architectural interest to the exterior of your home, its real job is to carry dangerous smoke and gases safely out of your home. Before you light those first winter fires, you’ll want check the condition of your chimney, or you may not be enjoying that fireplace fire for long.

It is important to have your chimney professionally cleaned before you light a fire in your home’s fireplace. This is the first and most important step in building a safe fireplace fire.

Chimneys can quickly build up with birds’ nests and windblown debris, as well as tar-like creosote from previous fires. A qualified chimney sweep will clear away any chimney obstructions so you can build your fireplace fire without worry.

Gather the Proper Supplies

There is a recipe for starting a proper fireplace fire, and it is important to have all the ingredients readily at hand before you get started. Here is what you are going to need to build a proper fireplace fire.

  • Seasoned hardwood logs in varying lengths and diameters.(To build a safe fire, you want to choose well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months – one year and stored in a covered and elevated location.)
  • Kindling (Smaller branches and twigs)
  • Newspaper (Not the glossy kind common in advertisements)
  • Fireplace grate
  • Fireplace screen
  • Fireplace tools (including poker, tongs, shovel, and brush)
  • Long matches or long-handled lighter

Open the Damper

This is an important step. If you neglect to open the chimney damper before you light your fire, you home will quickly fill with wood smoke. The damper may be difficult to open if it has been sitting unused for several months. However, a proper chimney cleaning should include an inspection of your damper for safety purposes.

Position Your Logs

There are several effective methods for stacking logs, including the log cabin and teepee configurations. However, for a fireplace fire, the simplest method is to use an “upside down” stacking design.

Start by lining a few larger logs across your fireplace grate. Next, add one or more layers of logs that are smaller in diameter. Make sure each layer is stacked perpendicular to the layer below, using progressively smaller logs for each level.

On the top layer, pile small twigs and sticks for kindling and top with some crumpled newspaper.

Start the Fire

After you have finished stacking your materials, use a long match or lighter to light the newspaper and small kindling. Put your fireplace screen in place, and then sit back and enjoy.

One of the advantages of the “upside down” structure is the newspaper and kindling ignite first. As they burn, the hot embers fall down into the structure and catch the larger piece of wood on fire.

This style of structure also works to provide a good flow of oxygen to the lower embers. This allows the fire to burn longer. Once the fire is going, it requires minimal poking, adjusting, or other maintenance. This gives you more time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the warmth of your fireplace fire.

Put the Fire Out

After you are finished enjoying your fireplace fire, you need to make sure that the fire is completely extinguished. If you plan on spending the night at home, you may decide to wait until the fire burns out on its own. However, before you go to bed and leave the fireplace unattended, make sure the fire is completely out. You can place your hand over the ash to feel if there is any residual heat emanating. If you still feel warmth, you will need to further extinguish the ashes. There is always a chance that a smoldering ember could reignite after you’ve gone to bed, causing a fire hazard.

If you don’t have time to wait for the fire in your fireplace to burn out on its own, you can use your fireplace tools to help speed the process. Use your poker and shovel to spread the smoldering embers. Stir up the ash to cover and smother any glowing logs or other embers. If you need to speed up the process even more, you can sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the embers to help smother them.


A warm roaring fire in your fireplace is a relaxing way to feel toasty on a cold winter’s night. However, a fireplace fire is no substitute for a functioning home heating system. The comfort and convenience of a well-maintained heating system is the best way to keep your home and family warm during the cold months of winter. If you need assistance keeping your home warm, contact your local HVAC professionals for routine or emergency maintenance.