Agriculture News: As cold temperatures come, time to talk about fire safety

By Keenan Bishop, Published:

When December temperatures hit the high 60s and some nights only cooled into the 50s, it seemed silly to talk about fireplace safety and burning wood. But the holidays and cold weather are here and a cheery fire adds ambiance. If you haven’t already, many of us will soon be firing up woodstoves and fireplaces. About this time every year I take this chance to remind folks about fire safety.

“Be sure to use fireplaces and wood-burning stoves for their intended purposes and don’t burn inappropriate fuels or igniter substances,” said Larry Piercy, Extension safety and health specialist for the UK College of Agriculture.

Burn the proper fuel for wood- and coal-burning stoves, he said. Don’t use coal in a wood-burning stove. Also avoid using charcoal or other fuels not intended for a stove. Never use flammable liquids such as kerosene or gasoline to start a fire in a fireplace or stove because these liquids could explode and cause a serious injury, Piercy said. Don’t use wood that has been treated with preservatives because it can release dangerous chemicals.

Another important safety point is to install a wood- or coal-burning stove according to the manufacturer’s instructions, Piercy said. Keep the stove at least 36 inches from combustible materials such as walls, furniture and drapes.


Other safety tips include checking the flue several times during the winter to ensure there is no creosote buildup that can cause a fire; making sure fireplaces are out before going to bed; using a tight-fitting screen on a freestanding fireplace; and keeping flammable objects away from the fire.

Common fire safety tips also include installing smoke alarms outside each sleeping area and on each floor. Vacuum cobwebs and dust away from each alarm and replace batteries at least once a year, or use lithium batteries that last up to six years. Have at least one fire extinguisher in the home. Be sure everyone knows how to use it.

A quick glance in the paper shows that there are many firewood vendors to choose from. Those on farms or with access to woodlands will gather their own. When choosing your firewood, Doug McLaren, UK Extension Forestry Specialist, explains that two factors will determine just how hot your fire is – seasoning and the kind of wood.

Wood is made up of air and cellulose (wood fiber). The more air space that wood has, the less there is to burn. Buying wood with the heaviest/densest per unit volume will keep you toasty. Osage orange, hickory, black locust, all of the oaks, sugar maple and ash produce hot fires; plus they are easy to split.

Yellow poplar, silver maple and red maple provide much less heat per log but are good for kindling because they catch fire quickly. Avoid elm, sycamore and sweet gum because they are not as warm, and their fibers are so interlaced they will not split.


Good firewood species are found in Kentucky, although suppliers sometimes will identify their stock only as “hardwoods” without specifying the species. Be sure to ask what kind of wood you are buying. Some here in the county even store the wood in barns so it’ll be dry no matter what the weather.

The second thing to look for when buying firewood is how much water is in the wood.  Since wood comes from a living plant, it contains water.  The more water in the wood, the less heat it generates when it burns. Ask the vendor if the wood is seasoned.  Wood is 50 percent moisture and needs six months to a year to dry out enough to burn efficiently. Dry or seasoned wood has splits in the ends of the logs and a gray appearance.

Firewood is sold in a variety of measures. A cord measures 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long.  Often this is too much for the occasional user, as most homeowners are.  For more information on firewood visit

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