With winter here, parents have been stacking up questions about making fireplaces as safe as possible for the family. Let me fire up some seasonal information on this topic.

First, fireplaces can be a cause for some significant burns in children and adults, not to mention carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you are going to use your fireplace, have a professional check your chimney every year. They will make sure there are no animal nests or other things that can block smoke from escaping. That person can also check your fireplace or woodstove to make sure it is in good working order.

Before starting a fire, make sure the damper or flue is open. Keep it open until the fire is out to draw smoke out of the house rather than into it. It is also important to clean out ashes from previous fires. Then keep your level of ash to one inch or less. A thicker layer restricts the air supply to a log and results in more smoke.

The area around the fireplace should be cleared of anything flammable. A spark from the fire could ignite something nearby. Fireplace tools should be out of children’s reach, as should lighters and matches.

The best wood for a fireplace fire is dry and well-aged, which burns more evenly and with less smoke. In fact, smaller pieces of wood placed on a grate in the fireplace burn faster and produce even less smoke. Wet or green wood smokes a lot and will increase soot buildup in the chimney.

Never leave an unattended fire in the fireplace. Make sure any fire is out before going to bed or leaving the house. Speaking of unattended, never leave a child in a room with a fire. It’s a great idea to place a safety screen in front of a woodstove or fireplace to prevent burns.

Don’t forget to test your smoke and carbon monoxide detector monthly and change your batteries once a year. A fire extinguisher in the home is a must, too. It is a good idea to keep a window slightly open to prevent the buildup of smoke or carbon monoxide. This is a safety precaution, even if you have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in your home.

Hopefully, tips like these will light up, and not inflame, your knowledge about ensuring a safe fireplace this winter.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

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