How to start a fire in a fireplace

By Allstate

Last updated: November 2023

Knowing how to build a fire in your fireplace can be a helpful skill as cold weather approaches. Whether you’re a seasoned fireplace enthusiast or it’s your first time lightning one, understanding the fundamentals of fireplace safety is necessary.

From having the right supplies and knowing what to check for before starting to the actual step-by-step process of lightning the fire – it requires you to know things that may not be obvious to avoid potential hazards. So, if you’re ready for an enjoyable fireplace lightning experience in your home, here’s how to start.

get a personalized insurance quote today

A great rate is just a few clicks away.

Prepare all your supplies

First, you’ll want to make sure you have all the supplies you need for getting the fire started and maintaining it safely, once it’s lit. Here’s are some helpful items you’ll want to consider getting:

  • Extra-long matches or a lighter with a long metal wand. The longer the source of the flame is from your hands, the better. That additional length can help prevent you from singeing your fingers.
  • Kindling. These are small pieces of dry wood or twigs that help get your fire started.
  • Newspaper sheets. This can help get your wood evenly lit. The EPA recommends you use uncoated newspapers instead of glossy paper (common in magazines or flyers), cardboard or household garbage.
  • Seasoned hardwood. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and dried under cover for at least 6-12 months, registering less than 20 percent moisture with a meter, explains HGTV. Use appropriately split, well-seasoned firewood, adds the EPA. Do not try to burn wet or green (unseasoned) wood. Also, do not use driftwood, plywood, particle board or any wood with glue on it.
  • Wrought iron fireplace grate: This is the metal stand in your fireplace for wood to rest on. It not only keeps your wood together but also allows air flow which helps the wood burn more efficiently.
  • Fireplace screen. It’s important to have one or panels that sufficiently cover the entire width of your hearth's opening – this prevents sparks from getting into your room. It’s also useful for keeping children and pets away from the fire.
  • Wrought iron utensils. These are useful to have to help you manage your wood once it’s been lit. Common utensils include a poker, tongs, shovel and brush.
  • Ash bucket with lid. This is what you can put ashes into. It not only helps you clean up your fireplace and hearth, but also allows you to safely transport any hot remnants of your fire without getting burned.
  • Fire extinguisher. In any scenario where you’ll need to quickly put out the fire, it’s better to have a fire extinguisher handy than to have to leave the area to find it once the fire has started.

Can you use manufactured logs in fireplaces?

Yes, you can burn manufactured wood in a fireplace. In fact, data shows that burning one manufactured wood log in a fireplace emitted less air pollution than burning several pieces of wood, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If are using a manufactured log, you should follow the manufacturer's instructions and choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.

Essential precautions before you start a fireplace fire

Clear the fireplace area

Wear proper safety equipment, such as gloves and a mask, if you’re clearing out old burnt logs and ash. Be sure all flammable materials, such as drapes, clothing, books, furniture and decor items are well away from the fireplace (at least 3 feet), recommends HGTV. There should also be nothing within 12 inches above the lintel (the metal plate at the top of a fireplace opening) including a wooden mantel.

Check the chimney

Make sure the protective liners of your chimney are in good working order. Search for a certified professional to help clean and inspect your fireplace and chimney. When looking for a professional, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends asking the following questions:

  • How long has the professional been in business?
  • Does the professional have references?
  • Do they have any unresolved complaints filed within the city or state?
  • Do they or the company they work for carry valid business liability insurance?

The CSIA also recommends that you get your chimney cleaned once a year. It may be wise to get a chimney sweeping in the spring or summer as it can take months to book a professional and they get busier towards the colder months.

This check should also include making sure the damper can fully open. A damper is the mechanism in your chimney that adjusts airflow, explains Insider. Some dampers can be difficult to open once the fire is lit, so it’s best to check this prior to starting a fire. A blocked damper can restrict smoke from exiting your chimney and could cause the smoke to come into your home.

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.

Do not use flammable liquids to start your fire

The EPA recommends that you never use flammable liquids to start a fire, like gasoline, kerosene or charcoal starter. Outside of their smell, these liquids are combustible and are extremely dangerous to use inside of your home.

Steps to build a fire in your fireplace

Once you’ve gathered all your supplies and done the pre-checks, you can move on to starting the fire. The easiest way to build a fire that gives you a big, lasting burn is called the log cabin technique. You can adjust how long this fire burns by adding more logs, but here are the basics of how to do it.

The log cabin technique

1. Gather your firewood

Collect four larger logs that are seasoned (cut and dried under cover for at least 6-12 months). You can use more pieces of firewood if you want a bigger/longer fire.

2. Create the base

Place two larger logs on the fireplace grate, parallel to the back. They should be spaced out from one another.

3. Place newspaper (or other tinder) underneath the grate

You should use enough to fill the space between the two base logs.

4. Add the remaining logs on top

Place the other two logs perpendicularly on top of the base logs. Again, leave space between the two and you’ll see why it’s known as the log cabin technique. If you’re looking down at your wood, it should look like a hashtag (#). And, if you’re adding more wood, be sure to alternate the direction of logs in each layer.

5. Place kindling in the middle of the logs

You can stand them up to form a tipi in the center. You can also add more kindling over the top layer of logs.

7. Start the fire by lightning the newspaper sheets

Try to light it as close to the center as possible. Be sure to use long matches or a lighter with a metal wand, so you reduce the risk of burning yourself. These flames should ignite the kindling and eventually the logs. You can add additional kindling in places if you see the fire is reducing, but be mindful not to smother the flames and to maintain space for airflow.

8. Put the fireplace screen in place and enjoy

You may need to move the screen to add or maneuver logs but be sure to set it back into place so that sparks or hot embers don’t accidentally get into the room. It’s also a good safety measure to keep children or pets away from exposed flames. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends to have a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires.

Again, use caution by keeping flammable items away from the fireplace. Have a fire extinguisher handy, in case you need to put out the fire quickly. You should never leave a fire unattended, even when it’s contained in a fireplace. Be sure the fire and embers are fully extinguished before leaving the area or going to bed, explains the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). Also, do not close the damper in the chimney until nothing is left burning. You’ll want to transfer the ashes into a metal bucket with a lid and keep place it at least 10 feet away from your home.