Decorate Your Fireplace Safely

In much of the country, Christmas decorating begins with Thanksgiving weekend. We want our homes to look inviting, and folks with fireplaces just naturally want to dress them up to make the perfect setting for family and friends to gather. While the photo at left is truly lovely, I'm horrified by how unsafe it is! There are all those stockings overhanging the wood fire where a stray spark or simple overheating could cause them to catch fire. Then there's the greenery gliding across the hearth to the left. And we have the basket of firewood to the right, just inches from the fire. How can they possibly move that screen safely?

My apologies to the decorator/photographer... I can't find the original image to ask permission to use it. I hope they won't mind it serving as a lesson in, well, what not to do. Being involved in fireplace and chimney safety for over 35 years, I think I notice problems instinctively so I thought a few safety tips might be in order.

NOTHING FLAMMABLE SHOULD OVERHANG THE MANTEL. Sparks from a wood fire can ignite them, but heat transfer from a gas fire can, as well.

KEEP ALL COMBUSTIBLE ITEMS 3' FROM THE SIDES OF THE FIREPLACE OPENING. Heat and sparks don't just rise or extend in a straight line. Live greenery dries out quickly and is highly flammable.

NEVER BURN WRAPPING PAPER OR PIZZA BOXES in your woodstove or woodburning fireplace. The grease from a pizza box can ignite a roaring chimney fire. Bits of paper and cardboard can rise and catch the chimney on fire, too.

IF YOU BURN MANUFACTURED LOGS, only burn one at a time. They burn hotter than real wood and can easily warp metal fireplaces and chimneys. Better yet, skip them if you can. They use glues as binding agents for the sawdust and make for messy chimneys. Your chimney sweep will thank you for burning real wood instead.

KEEP AN EYE ON CANDLES! Don't leave the room if a candle is burning. The heat from your stove or fireplace can cause the unlit end of a candle to melt while it's also melting from the burning end. I don't know what it is with kids and candles but children are so attracted to them so make sure candles are placed well out of reach of children, along with the matches or lighter you use.

One decorating trend we see a lot is burning candles in the fireplace instead of wood. Much safer, right? Not necessarily. Don't place candles directly on the floor of the fireplace where the wax will melt and pool, providing fuel that can cause a dangerous flare-up if you burn a wood fire later. Put the candles in a drip pan of some type to catch that wax.

CHECK SMOKE ALARMS AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS. If you didn't change the batteries with the time change this month, please do it now.

Want some ideas for safer mantel decorations? Check out our Pinterest board Christmas Fireplace Decorating

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