Gas can pouring gas inside fireplace

10 Things to Never Burn in a Fireplace

Gas can pouring gas inside fireplaceTrue story: When I was growing up, we lived next door to some wonderful neighbors. John (not his real name) was a California Highway Patrolman and we highly respected him. His wife became best friends with my mother. My brothers and I became friends with their four sons. One winter, John was trying to get a fire started with green wood. Because the wood had a high moisture content, he couldn’t get the fire started. John went and got a gas can and poured some gas on the wood, not knowing that there was smoldering wood below the grate from the previous night’s fire. The fire instantly exploded. John jumped back and spilled the gas can on top of himself which instantly lit him on fire. John was burned over 75% of his body and almost died. He was in the hospital for months recovering and he suffered a great deal of pain from those burns for the remaining 45 years of his life. This event had a major impact on me and every time I see or hear about someone pouring gas on a fire to get it started, I instantly think of John.

Burning a fire in your fireplace is one of the simple pleasures in life but there are certain items that should never be burned in your fireplace.

Paper

Rolled up newspaper used in priming the flueJunk mail, newspapers, magazines, and trash (such as cardboard, pizza boxes and Styrofoam) may contain plastic, chemicals, glues as well as ink that can be toxic when burned.

Identity fraud is rampant, leading people to burn credit card statements and other documents that could create a nightmare if it gets in the wrong hands. Buy a shredder instead. Fly-away embers from burning paper can plug up a chimney cap or, even worse, if a cap isn’t present, these embers can land on your roof or on your neighbor’s roof. Using a few pages of newspaper to start a fire is fine but avoid using the colored advertising slicks.

Green wood

Wood should be aged at least six months, but better a year. To get around this, order your wood from the wood seller in the spring, have it split and stacked ready to go for when the cold season starts. Don’t trust the wood lot when they say that the wood has been aged. The moisture content in the wood should be between 15%-20%. Green wood will give you a smokier fire, will smell bad and will create more creosote build-up in the flue, setting you up for a dangerous flue fire.

Fuel Accelerants – Gasoline, lighter fluid, kerosene

In addition to the reason demonstrated above, accelerant fluids can produce a fire that can quickly get out of control and will produce a toxic odor that can damage your lungs.

Pressure-treated wood

Construction scraps or wood that has been chemically treated, painted or stained such as plywood, paneling or particle board can be toxic when burned. This also includes furniture and the old wood from that deck or fence you removed from the backyard last summer.

Christmas trees

While the Christmas tree may seem like it’s dried out, it contains resins that may explode when burned. It can quickly create a fire that is out of control.

Christmas wrapping paper


The ink from Christmas wrapping paper can be toxic when burned. Also, the flyaway embers can either clog up the chimney cap if you have a chimney cap, or if you don’t have a cap, the embers can land on your roof or your neighbor’s roof and start a fire.

Plastics

Burning plastic can create cancer-causing dioxins, a highly toxic chemical that builds up in human tissue. It also produces fumes that are harmful to your throat and lungs. The smoke can create damage to the environment.

Synthetic fabrics

For the same reason as burning plastic, synthetic fabrics should not be burned due to the toxic chemicals produced.

Coal or charcoal products

These products are only intended for outside use because of charcoal-induced carbon monoxide poisoning that can be caused.  Leave the charcoal to your outside barbecue.

Certain Plants

Smoke from plants that contain urushiol, such as poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac, can create a serious allergic reaction to the nasal passages, throat and lungs if the smoke is inhaled.


Remember that your fireplace is not an incinerator. Buy a shredder for your paperwork and dispose of your garbage and any processed or treated wood properly. Have fires in the fireplace in a responsible way for the safety of you, your family and the environment, and stick to burning properly-aged wood in your fireplace. Don’t take unnecessary chances!

For more information about our chimney and dryer vent services, please visit our website at www.SwedeSweep.com

Written by Terri Pocock

Terri and her husband, Rick, are the owners of Swede Chimney Sweep & Dryer Vent Cleaning in San Diego, California since 1994. Terri is just one of a small handful of women in California who is a F.I.R.E. Certified Technician as well as a Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician through the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Swede Chimney Sweep & Dryer Vent Cleaning - 858/573-1672

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2 thoughts on “10 Things to Never Burn in a Fireplace

  1. My neighbor is burning trash/garbage in his fireplace. It’s also obvious that he is using some kind of fuel to start it. He has no apparent trash pickup service, and uses the fireplace regardless of heatwaves or cold-snaps at lease twice per day. I live in Leicester, Mass., and am writing to find out if this is an illegal practice and who I should contact after I talk with him to see if he’ll stop.

    1. I’m so sorry that you have to experience this. Neighbor issues are the worst. Unfortunately what he is doing may be totally legal. What he doesn’t realize though is that he is producing major toxins not only to the neighbors, like you, but also to himself. Here’s a great article written by the Wood Heat Organization that explains how burning garbage creates toxins and poisons: http://www.woodheat.org/poison.html

      If talking to your neighbor and perhaps giving him a copy of that article from the Wood Heat organization doesn’t change his actions, you can contact your local authority having jurisdiction (your city or county) to see what, if any, actions can be taken against this neighbor.

      You may also consider signing on to your local “Nextdoor,” a social media site, to address this with other neighbors in your area. I have no doubt that you’re not the only one experiencing the actions of this neighbor. There’s power in numbers. Here’s a link to your neighborhood’s “Nextdoor” site: https://nextdoor.com/city/leicester–ma/

      In the meantime, my heart goes out to you!

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