How you handle the ashes from your wood-burning stove or fireplace can make a big difference. Ash can actually cause expensive damage to your stove, and improperly disposed of ashes can burn down your house!
Ash can also be a good thing. During the burning season, having a one-inch layer of ash on the firebox floor can make it easier to build a fire and can protect the floor of the firebox. Hot coals sink into the ash and glow; this adds more heat to fuel and reflects the heat back to the fire.
Too deep ash can cause the fireplace’s grate to burn out sooner than normal. Also, if you have a wood stove or fireplace with lots of ash, it will reduce the amount of wood able to be added to the firebox.
At the end of the heating season, remove the ashes from your fireplace and stove. Ash can pull moisture and cause metal parts to
rust. Also, when acidic ash is blended with moisture it can be very destructive to both masonry and metal hearth components.
Each year, our local fire departments respond to fires that are caused by improper disposal of hot coals or ashes from fireplaces, wood stoves, pellet stoves, grills or mobile fireplaces designed for use on decks or patios. The fact is that coals and ashes from fires can remain hot enough to start a fire for days. To be safe, treat all ashes and coals as hot. Allow ashes and coals to cool in a metal container and wet them down. Don’t add anything else to the metal ash bucket, and keep the ash container outside and away from any deck, walls, firewood, newspapers, kindling, fuel, or anything that can burn.
Have your chimney inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by someone with experience, to ensure it is clear of obstructions and creosote. Horizontal stove pipes are particularly prone to clogging which can cause a fire. Repair any cracks in your chimney and fireplace. It may not seem like it, but those cracks are dangerous.
Use fireplace screens to keep sparks and fire debris inside the fireplace. Do not use an accelerant to start a fire, such as kerosene or gasoline.
Ensure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. If you need to, douse it with water. Make sure a three-foot safe zone around the fireplace or stove is clear of all combustibles, including matches, wood pellets, newspapers, rugs, and firewood. Keep all children and pets a safe distance from fireplaces, and install both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
Keep a fire extinguisher on hand—remember, you’re the first firefighter on scene so make sure you have the tools you need to knock down that fire fast.