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How to Build a Better Fire in Your Fireplace

Published: February 2019

Knowing how to build a fire in the fireplace can be helpful information on a cold winter's night. If you've never started a fire in a fireplace, here's how to get started.

Video Transcript

On a cold winter's night, nothing's cozier than curling up near a warm fireplace. But do you know the best way to build a fire? Here's a step-by-step guide.

Before using your fireplace and chimney for the first time in the season, you'll want to call in a pro to inspect and clean.

And never use your fireplace without first following these safety tips. Remove any flammable objects from the fireplace area, and be sure nothing is hanging off your mantel.

Make sure the room with your fireplace is well-ventilated and free of any flammable fumes and gases.

Now it's time to gather your supplies. You'll need extra-long wooden safety strike matches, dry wood or twigs for kindling, sheets of newspaper for tinder, seasoned firewood, an iron fireplace grate and a poker.

Before building the fire, check that your fireplace damper, which is the vent, is fully open.

Start by placing two pieces of firewood on the grate in your fireplace.

Now crumple newspaper, which is your tinder, and place it between the firewood. Place the kindling on top.

Add one or two more pieces of firewood on top of the other logs, and be sure to leave enough room for air to circulate around the logs. Be careful not to add too much wood.

Before you light the fire, be sure you have important safety tools close by.

Now it's time to light the fire. Twist a single sheet of newspaper and hold it in your fireplace. Carefully light the paper while holding it up as high as you can in the fireplace. This can help establish a nice draft, allowing the smoke to travel upward and out of your chimney.

Next, light the kindling with the burning paper.

Once the fire starts, add firewood as needed, but make sure the top of the flames do not reach the top of the fireplace opening. Place the screen in front of your fireplace to help stop any flying sparks from leaving the fireplace and to help prevent logs from rolling out.

All that's left is to relax and enjoy the toasty fire. And remember to put out the fire completely before going to sleep or leaving the room.


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What Supplies You Need to Build a Fire

  • Extra-long wooden safety strike matches: The longer the better; their length may help prevent you from singeing your fingers.
  • Kindling: Small pieces of dry wood or twigs are natural fire starters. Never use flammable liquids to start a fire, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.
  • Newspaper sheets: Have uncoated newspaper on hand. Don't use coated (glossy) paper, cardboard or household garbage, the EPA says.
  • Seasoned hardwood: Use appropriately split, well-seasoned firewood, adds the EPA.
  • Grate: Use a wrought iron fireplace grate that fits your fireplace and helps allow the air to flow under logs, says the DIY Network.
  • Screen: Use a fireplace screen or panels that sufficiently cover the entire width of your hearth's opening, according to U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).
  • Utensils: Have wrought iron fireplace utensils to use, including poker, tongs, shovel and brush.
  • Ash bucket with lid: Use a metal ash bucket with a tight-fitting lid.

What to Check Before You Light a Fire

Clean the fireplace area. Be sure all flammable materials, such as drapes, magazines, books, clothing and home decor items, are well away from the fireplace, according to the East Side Fire Department. If you have a mantel, check that nothing is hanging off of it.

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, you may want to ask these questions from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA):

  • 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?
  • Does their company guarantee a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep will be there for the inspection?

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.

How to Light a Fire

When you're ready to set up and light the fire, be sure to follow these steps from the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NSCG):

  • Step 1: Place two medium sized pieces of firewood on the metal grate approximately 6 inches apart.
  • Step 2: Crumple sheets of newspaper (tinder) in between the two pieces of firewood and cover the tinder with kindling.
  • Step 3: Place one to two more pieces of firewood on top of the other logs. Make sure there is enough space for ventilation.
  • Step 4: Check that the fireplace damper (vent) is fully open.
  • Step 5: Start off by twisting a single sheet of newspaper and light it while holding it as high up as possible in the fireplace. Be careful not to burn yourself. This can help establish a good draft in the chimney as the heat rises.
  • Step 6: Slowly light the kindling with the burning paper.
  • Step 7: Once a fire is established, add firewood as needed and make sure to keep flames visible below the fireplace opening.

Remember don't put too much firewood on the fire, according to the NSCG. It is also important to have a three-foot barrier between children and the fire at all times according to the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA also suggests keeping anything flammable at least three feet away from the fireplace.

Now, you'll need to remember to put out the fire before going to sleep or leaving your home, says the USFA. Once the fire is out, use your wrought iron utensils to separate the logs to different sides of the fireplace and close the screen or glass doors tightly. Do not close the damper until the fire and coals are completely cooled, adds the NSCG. For safety tips regarding proper ash disposal, visit the Portland Fire & Rescue rescue website.

With the tips above, you can be on your way to safely enjoying your fireplace this season.

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