Why You Should NEVER Use Paper to Start a Wood Stove

My family and I have been visiting my in-laws over the Christmas holidays. The time has been nice and mostly without incident, but the day after Christmas we had an unpleasant surprise await us when we returned from the movies… the house was full of smoke!

You see, my brother-in-law had been trying to keep the house warm with my in-laws wood stove as it’s been rather cold of late here in Missouri.

Unfortunately, he had been using paper to get the wood burning fireplace going rather than firestarter bricks which they normally use.

That, coupled with the fact that they (my in-laws) haven’t had their stove flue cleaned in probably a few years AND, equally important, the flue has two 90-degree bends in it, well… the inevitable happened and the flue clogged up just enough to continue a very slow burn yet not exhaust the smoke up the chimney. And since the smoke had nowhere to go it filled the house.

Normally, we would have quickly noticed something was wrong but, since we all went to the movies, there was nobody home to realize it!

Who knows why my brother-in-law decided to try and start a fire even though we were all leaving. I assumed he wasn’t successful and had given up when I walked out the door, but I was wrong… which brings up another great point: NEVER leave your home unattended if you have a fire going because you never know what might happen.

You see, my in-laws have a few dogs, one cat, and even our dog was trapped in the house as well. Here’s my father-in-law with all the dogs standing outside in the cold:

Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who chose not to go to the movies with us) had decided to stop by and, to her surprise, found a house full of smoke along with a handful of terrified animals. If she had been 15 or 20 minutes later, who knows if we would have had a few dead animals on our hands as well.

When she realized what was going on my sister-in-law quickly called 9-1-1, ushered out the dogs, and managed to corral the cat too. Within minutes the fire department showed up, along with an ambulance and two police cars; I’m sure it was a scene for the neighbors, to say the least.

Within an hour or so the fire department had removed the obvious smoke so we could go inside again. Regrettably, ever since then the entire house has smelled like a campfire but worse because there’s no fresh air to replace the smoky smell. The first night or two most of us had a bit of a headache and I actually slept with the window open even though it was quite cold that night.

It was so bad that we (really my wife and sister-in-law) decided to wash the walls with a vinegar/water solution and vacuumed the carpets with baking soda. Eventually, they’ll get the carpets cleaned professionally too. The cleaning has helped, though, it will probably be months before the smell complete dissipates.

Anyway, I figured I would share a personal example of a failure to be safe to get the New Year off to a running start, lol. Yes, it was a “perfect storm” of mistakes that caused the problem, but all of the mistakes could have easily been avoided had we considered our safety–and that of our pets–and bit more.

Be safe out there.

7 Things You Should Never Burn in Your Fireplace (and why)

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I have a bunch of old papers that I need to get rid of and it occurred to me that I could just burn them in my fireplace one day, but I got to wondering if that was really a good idea as I’d never done so before (I’d always done this outdoors).

Well, it turns out that “it depends” on precisely what I’m burning, but I did find this article on several items I should never burn in the fireplace and wanted to share it with you, too, so you’re aware as well…

“The fireplace looks like a handy place to dispose of unwanted combustibles, but it’s safest to burn only dry, seasoned firewood.  Many items you might innocently pop into the fireplace create serious hazards.

  1.  Don’t burn colored paper.  The inks used in wrapping paper, newspaper inserts, and magazines contain metals that can give off toxic fumes when burned.  Paper burns very quickly, so there is also a danger that flames may enter the chimney and ignite the creosote deposits in the flue.  Balls of paper can ‘float’ up the chimney on the hot air that is rising through the chimney and ignite flammable materials outside the home.

  2. Never burn painted, stained, or treated wood or manufactured wood such as plywood and particle board.  Chemicals in ‘salt treated’ wood, paint, or stains can produce toxic fumes when burned.  Likewise, burning manufactured wood products produces toxins and carcinogens…”

Read the full article here