What to know before you light your fireplace for the first time this year

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FARMINGTON, N.M. – It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas in the Four Corners. On Tuesday it was snowing in Farmington, and on those chilly days nothing is cozier than some hot chocolate by the fireplace. However, the fireplace isn’t just a source of warmth, but a responsibility.

Many people don’t want to weather the storm so, they turn on the fireplace without giving it a proper look.

“The biggest thing is just not checking on your fireplace and you use it year after year, year in and year out, and you don’t have it inspected or cleaned, and then it causes an issue,” Captain with San Juan County Fire and Rescue, Shay Aurnhammer said.

Those issues that can result in a call to 911.

“There can be a buildup in the chimney itself which causes a chimney fire, which can be difficult to see that happening, which is why you want to have it cleaned out annually,” said Aurnhammer. 

Aurnhammer added that around this time every year, there is a spike in structure fires linked to starting up the fireplace, and space heaters because all sorts of things could be lurking in the chimney.

“Another thing to look for is bird nests that get built in the chimney in the warmer months you don’t realize it and the nest is flammable,” Aurnhammer noted. “You want to make sure you are inspecting it and looking for any obvious deformities or cracks or anything that could cause an issue, or making sure that it’s cleaned out properly, have it professional swept, annually if you can.”

Once your fireplace is cleaned of last year’s ashes, you don’t want to dispose of this year’s embers too soon.

“The biggest thing is taking out your embers when they are too hot and placing them in a plastic bag, and setting them out in a garage, or just tossing them into your trash can. You typical want to put them into a metal container and set them further away from the house, and let them cool for up to four days,” Aurnhammer said. 

It’s not just the inside of the fireplace that can be hazardous, but those holiday decorations on the outside can be too.

“If you got things directly hanging over your fireplace – you don’t want anything that is going to be too close to where any radiant heat of the flame can cause a fire,”  said Aurnhammer.