Let us assume that you've had your chimney inspected and cleaned so that there's no build-up of flammable creosote to worry about. You've taken the old ashes to your compost pile, or you have cleaned them out the easy way with a Cricket Ash Vac.
Then, look up your chimney to make sure the damper is open. A 'throat damper' is located at the bottom of the chimney and will open with a lever or with chain-pulls. If you have a 'top damper,' it's located at the top of the chimney and you open it by pulling a cable.You've cleared the hearth of anything flammable. Now crumple 2-3 sheets of paper and put them in your fireplace grate. The fireplace grate enables your fire to pull in the air it needs to keep a good draft going up the chimney. Put a good handful of kindling strips, ½ inch by 10 inch pieces of pine wood on top of the paper. Better yet, use some fatwood for the kindling. Fatwood is a natural, chemical-free part of pine trees, cut into easy to use sticks, that creates a one-match, enduring flame for fire starting. [To learn more about fatwood, check out our article about Fatwood: Nature's One-Match Fire Starter.] On top of the kindling, criss-cross 8 or 10 dry pieces of hardwood, say 1-inch square by 1 foot long.
The National Fire Protection Association, reports an annual average of 53,700 residential fires in the United States from 1999 to 2002 related to home heating equipment. As a result of these fires, 320 people died, 1,270 people were injured, and total property losses were set at more than $637 million in property damage each year. The root cause of most of these losses is that most U.S. homeowners are unaware that chimney’s are an integral part of a home heating system and that they require regular evaluation and maintenance. In a great many European countries - including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Germany - chimney-fire damage statistics have been reduced to negligible numbers because national coalitions of government, insurance companies, fire and building officials, and chimney sweeps have developed tough regulations mandating regularly scheduled chimney inspections and cleaning. The citizens of those countries understand the hazards of chimneys not maintained, and their chimney sweeps are regular members of their home safety team. Most homeowners in the United States and Canada, however, seem to have little working knowledge of chimney and venting systems. This situation is complicated by the fact that faults, damage and problems rarely visible to the casual observer. In fact, people who will quickly replace a faulty automobile exhaust system because of the hazard it presents will allow their home's exhaust system the chimney or vent - to go unchecked and not maintained for years. The threat of chimney fires and unsafe indoor air quality conditions can be greatly reduced, perhaps even eliminated, if homeowners only understood that chimneys are active home operation systems which require regular maintenance.