A fire in a wood-burning fireplace is a friend you can never trust.
It’s a friend because it offers light, warmth and coziness in the dark, cold and sometimes un-cozy winter. But that fire roars only inches away from your carpet and oak floor. One minute you’re enjoying the bright, pretty, dancing flames. Then one little pop and spark and you’ve got flames where they’re not supposed to be, risking injury and serious property damage.
So enjoy your fireplace, but relax only when that fire is out.
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Tools and Materials for Putting Out a Fire
If you’ve got a wood-burning fireplace, keep these items on hand:
- Fireplace tools: Use the poker and shovel to put out fires and clean up afterwards.
- Firefighter gloves: Excellent for handling hot wood and ashes.
- Sand or baking soda: To spread over ashes to ensure the fire goes out.
- Ash bucket: For carrying ashes from the fireplace.
- Fire extinguisher: For emergencies.
How to Safely Put Out a Fire in a Fireplace
Everyone who uses a wood-burning fireplace should know how to safely put out a fire. Here’s how to do it.
Let the fire burn out
“By far the best way to put out a fire in a fireplace is to stop feeding it,” says Leroy Hite, CEO and founder of Cutting Edge Firewood in Peachtree Corners, Georgia. “Don’t add more wood, and it will starve the fire and go out over time. If you don’t want your fire burning when you go to sleep or go out, this takes planning.”
Planning involves timing your bedtime or departure so the wood pieces burn out first. “If your wood is stacked so a bunch of wood is on the fire, it’ll burn for a few hours,” Hite says. “If you burn an extended burn log … it can burn up to eight hours.”
The size of the wood matters as well. “If you want your fire to burn out in two hours, feed small pieces,” he says. “Also, the species of wood makes a difference.” Hickory burns 30% longer than cherry wood, Hite says, so plan accordingly.
As the fire burns out, Hite says, “Make sure there is a screen in front of the fireplace. Check that the wood is stable and pushed to the back of the fireplace so it doesn’t accidentally fall or roll out of the fireplace.”
Spread out embers and use cool ashes
As the fire burns down, spread out the remaining wood and embers with a poker to create a flattened pile that cools the fire. Then scoop cool ashes from the bottom of your fireplace and place atop the wood and embers. Use a fireplace shovel and repeat the process until your fire is extinguished.
Apply baking soda
The sodium bicarbonate in baking soda is the same ingredient in some fire extinguishers. You may also use sand, but baking soda is less messy.
Safety note: Always have a screen in place when there’s a fire burning and while it’s dying out. This prevents sparks and embers from popping out into the living area.
Don’t Use These Tools to Put Out a Fire
Theoretically, if you need to put out a fire before you leave or go to bed, Hite says you could use a hot-coal or ash bucket to carefully transport still-burning material outside. But he doesn’t recommend it.
“Honestly, this way can be more dangerous than leaving the coals and burning logs in your fireplace,” he says. “You have to grab something that is on fire and smoking. I don’t advise doing this. You could burn yourself or drop the bucket and the hot contents fall out, or you could trip and fall.”
Hite says a hot ember can last up to a week in a metal trash can or bucket. So wait at least a week before you pour the ashes outside. Don’t do it inside because you risk carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Either wait a week or douse the ashes in a lot of water, either in the bucket or on dirt,” he says. “If you only wait two days and then throw the un-doused ashes in the woods, you can start a fire.”
“I wouldn’t use a fire extinguisher unless there is an emergency, like if the fire is spreading somewhere other than the fireplace,” says Hite. “You’re going to make a big mess with a fire extinguisher. You’ll have a mud of ashes.”
Also, he says, don’t put out the fire with water. “The fireplace isn’t made to hold water, and if you pour water in there, you’re going to have wet ash coming out into your house,” he says. Water also can cause excessive smoke and result in steam burns, as well as damage the masonry.
How to Clean a Fireplace After a Fire
Don’t be too tidy. Once the fire has been out for at least a week, Hite recommends leaving an inch or so of ashes at the bottom of the fireplace. The ashes protect the brick from future fires and make your fireplace last longer.
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