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Be careful what you burn in the fireplace

When winter’s snow and temperatures come down, flames in the fireplace usually go up.

However, be careful about what gets burned, said Tamara Walkingstick, associate director of the Arkansas Forest Research Center and an extension forester for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Before lighting that first fire, “homeowners should check their chimneys, fireplaces, woodstoves and other heat sources that use wood to see if there is any creosote buildup, birds, rodents, insects or bats that may have taken up residence in there,” she said.

Creosote is flammable and any added nesting materials mean that “all it takes is a stray spark to turn that creosote into a torch,” Walkingstick said.

If homeowners have to resort to the fireplace for heat in the event of a power loss and a limited supply of firewood, “they should not burn lumber, especially old boards,” she said. “Salvaged timber may have been treated with an arsenic-based compound. Burning that wood will put those chemicals into the air you’re breathing.

“Burning green wood or resinous wood like pine can make flammable creosote accumulate in the chimney even more rapidly and green wood also causes heavy smoke,” she said, adding that charcoal meant for your grill should never be burned in the fireplace. “Read and follow package directions.”

It’s also a good idea to check chimneys and stovepipes for leaks.

“If the electricity goes out and you need that heat, the last thing you want to see is a house full of dangerous and damaging smoke coming out of your chimney and stovepipes,” Walkingstick said.

Space heaters need to be used with care. Be sure there is nothing flammable around — no stacks of paper, drapes or furniture near by that could go up in flames.

For more information, contact your county extension office or visit

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