Tag: fire (Page 1 of 2)

Campfires, Bonfires and Fire Pits – Oh My!

Safely Enjoying Campfires & Bonfires


As the weather warms up, backyards and camp sites come alive! Priceless memories can built around campfires and who doesn’t have some favorite variation of s‘more! Whether you’re planning to add a fire pit, or even if you already have one, it’s especially important to make sure you’re safely using it. Follow these safety tips and enjoy the great outdoors!


  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Bucket of water
  • Kindling, tinder, and logs
  • Stones to ring the fire pit

Choosing and preparing the space:

  • Call your local fire department to make sure that fires are allowed where you plan to have one. They’ll probably have some specific guidelines of their own to add.
  • Choose level ground.
  • Choose a spot at that is at least 10-20 feet from any of structures (houses, sheds, fences, decks). Some fire departments require that it be at least 30’ from habitable structures. The further, the better!
  • Makes sure the area is clear of debris, dead or dry brush, rotten stumps, leaves, pine needles, and tall grass.
  • Depress the center of the area where the fire will be built and surround it with a ring of rocks.


  • Only use untreated, dry paper and wood-based materials.
  • Chop wood in short lengths.
  • Always keep a shovel and bucket of water handy.
  • Wear fitted clothing opposed to loose, flowy pieces.
  • Never leave the fire unattended. An adult should be present at all times.


  • Drown the fire with water
  • Stir the doused fire with your shovel to make sure everything gets nice and wet. Coals and wood should be wet on all sides. Add some more water and stir again.
  • Use the back of your hand to feel all around the area and make sure all embers are fully extinguished.
  • Smother it by shoveling some dirt onto it and mixing it up.

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Fire Prevention Week: Commemorating the Great Chicago Fire

Every year we come upon the week of October 9th, and amongst pictures of pumpkins and foliage, we find daily campaigns of fire safety and prevention. You may be familiar with the week itself, and even recognize its faithful mascot, Sparky the Fire Dog, but it wasn’t always just about education and public awareness. The reason for designating this week actually goes back to the tragedy of a particular day.

Fire Prevention Week

On the evening of October 8th, 1871 a fire started around a small barn in the city of Chicago. With wood and highly flammable roofing materials being the predominant building supplies of the city, strong southwest winds, and a few errors in the emergency response, the small barn fire turned devastating for the city. Adding to the perfect recipe for disaster, the fire was preceded by drought conditions that had been plaguing the region since July.

What started the fire is still left up for debate, but when all was said and done, the fire took out more than 2,000 acres. More than 17,400 structures were affected, roughly 300 people killed, and 100,000 residents were left homeless. Much of the city’s central business district had been completely destroyed. In the 40 years after the terrible event, people continued to think about what could have been done differently, and it was decided that each anniversary to follow would be observed in a way to promote fire safety awareness, and to teach the importance of fire prevention. This definition quickly blossomed into what is now our annually observed Fire Prevention Week.

Although Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, there was a series of fires that very same day, and the country suffered the worst forest fire in American history. The Peshtigo Fire was a fire storm that was said to have been started by smaller fires intentionally set to clear land for the growing railroad. Although the specifics couldn’t be accurately determined, the blaze took down around 16 towns, and killed over 1,100 people. When the blaze reached the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, it was completely destroyed within just an hour. It even skipped over the Menominee River destroyed several Upper Michigan towns. Separate from the Peshtigo Fire, Michigan originated its own fire, known as the Great Michigan Fire. The logging business was booming in the state at that time, and the raw wooden materials and bark remnants simply fueled the firestorm’s appetite.

From the collective ashes of these fires, survivors rose to mourn lost loved ones, and share their tales of bravery and heroism. People started to think differently about fire safety and awareness. Rather than the anniversary being a solemn day, the 40th anniversary decision to make it a campaign for public safety has been amazingly uplifting and beneficial to the cause. In today’s world, we trust in building codes, flame retardant materials, and regularly practice evacuation routes. We are more aware of how to properly store things, and what to check often to prevent hazards. Fire Prevention Week reminds us yearly about the importance of fire safety awareness, and of course reminds us to test those smoke detectors, but it all originated from that fateful day of October 9th, 1871.

Soot – What, Where, Why, and How

Fire Damage

What exactly is soot?
On a chemical level, soot is impure carbon particles created by partial combustion of hydrocarbons. It is usually the flaky or powdery remains of burned matter after a fire. Soot also has a gas phase in which it contains a known human carcinogen. Carcinogens are agents directly involved in causing cancer.

What are common sources of soot?
When most people think of soot a live flame in a fireplace and a chimney come to mind. Soot can also derive from furnaces, coal burning stoves, boilers, incinerating waste, forest fires, and internal combustion engines. More locally, other sources include candles, cooking, oil lamps, and settled dust on halogen bulbs. The source of the soot and the level of oxygen present when burning directly impacts the type of soot created, whether it be dry and dusty or even greasy. You’ll notice soot created when oxygen is reduced around the flame of a candle if you hold heat-safe glass over it for a moment.

Why is soot harmful?
Aside from the carcinogen contained in the gas phase as mentioned above, many different types of soot can pose a number of hazards. Soot such as the type caused by diesel exhaust is harmful to the environment and eyed as a prime subject to air pollution and global warming. Air pollution is hazardous to the environment and the health of humans. Prolonged exposure to soot ridden air pollution can contribute to heart disease.

It’s the incomplete combustion that serves the formation of toxic compounds such as dioxins. You see the negative effects of this during the Industrial Revolution when factories were causing major pollution.

Soot is dangerous when it is not properly maintained in a chimney or other source of ventilation. When it is allowed to build up, it can cause chimney fires, stove hood ventilation issues, or even cause the particles from a fireplace to backdraft into your home. If that happens you may be looking at a large soot cleaning that will require professional services.

Is any soot beneficial?
Soot has been used for pigment in inks and dyes for centuries. Modern day utensils include fountain pens, toner for laser printers, and crayons. To treat rubber, a vulcanization process is used with a soot material called carbon black. In small quantities, dry dusty soot from clean organic material can be beneficial to vegetation when mixed in with the soil. Oil soot is never good for this purpose.
So there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly on soot. What it is, what causes it, and what it can do. If you have any other questions, feel free to write me and I’ll include it in a new segment.

Photo credit to isthatart on stock.xchng

Safely Enjoy Your Fireplace or Wood Stove

Every year over 35% of residential fires are caused by heating sources. Many of them are due to creosote buildup in fireplace chimneys and stovepipes. Having a fireplace or a wood burning stove adds charm to a home and can be a great heating element, but they come with a lot of responsibility. You need to keep them clean, know what to burn and what not to burn in them, know how to burn those materials and how to store them. It takes every piece of that knowledge to make sure you’re protecting your home and its company while they’re in use.


Keeping wood stoves and fireplaces safe starts with a yearly inspection and chimney sweep. Make sure the specialist you hire is certified to perform their services. It’s always good to do a little research on how long they’ve been in business, any unresolved complaints that may be filed against them, and by following up with some of their current references. Don’t forget to also ask about their business liability insurance.

The next part of keeping stoves and fireplaces in great shape is then using them properly. To help keep the creosote from building up inside your fireplace chimney keep the glass doors open while the fire is burning, but don’t forget to keep them closed when the fire is out. Have a screen cover in front the fireplace to protect the surroundings from sparks and stray embers. You may even want to slightly crack a nearby window while using it to keep good air flow. When it comes to avoiding creosote buildup with wood stoves keep air inlets open and make sure not to restrict the air supply. Whether fireplace or stove, place a nonflammable rug in front so that if a spark does escape it doesn’t damage your floor.

Knowing how to build and tend to a fire is crucial for safety and maintenance. Build your fires small with seasoned hardwoods for fireplaces and seasoned wood pellets for pellet stoves. Never use trash, plastic or any cardboard as burning materials. Fires should be built on a grate for support and towards the rear of the fireplace. First place in the kindling and logs and then open the damper. Before you light your fire, an easy way to make sure the smoke will properly escape up the chimney is by quickly blowing out a lit match and watching where the smoke travels. Never start a fire with flammable liquids, and only use your fireplace tools to handle burning logs.

Fireplace and wood stove safety doesn’t end inside of the home. Protecting the exterior of your home involves proper storage of your burning materials, proper disposal of ashes and landscape maintenance. Place your firewood rack 30’ from your house. Keep the ventilation areas clear by trimming any branches around the flues, vents and/or the chimney. You can put a mesh screen to cover the chimney and it will protect the roof from any stray sparks. Vent pipes should be at least 3’ beyond your roof line. Did you know it can take up to three days for fire ashes to completely cool? When finally ready to remove them make sure you open the damper and a window so that rustled ash will be sent up the chimney with the negative air pressure, and then keep the removed ashes contained in a metal container at least 10’ from any structure.

Last but most importantly, test your smoke detectors on every floor monthly and don’t forget to change the batteries once a year. Need help with friendly reminders on that? Follow any of our social media accounts and we’ll post when it’s time.

So when your system is clean, the area maintenance is done, you have the correct burning materials properly stored, and all other safety measures are in place you’re good to go. It may sound like a bit of work but it is all completely necessary to protect your home from suffering a fire damage, smoke and soot damage. The best part you can then reap the rewards of all your efforts and cozy up to a nice toasty fire on one of these chilly nights. ‘Tis the season and I hear it’s going to be a cold week. Enjoy!

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