By the Fire Dog, as interpreted by Patrick Reitz, Idyllwild Fire Chief

Fall is upon us and with it comes shorter days and colder weather. It is also time for a few reminders about fireplace and heating safety.

Now is also the time many of you are firing up those stoves, heaters and fireplaces to fend off the cooler nights. But before you do, make sure that everything is clean and working properly.

It is important that you only use heating appliances that have been tested and approved by a recognized testing laboratory such as UL (Underwriter’s). Also, be sure that it is properly installed.

In addition to being assured of the safety of the appliance, your insurance may not cover losses if it is found that an appliance is not approved or an illegal installation caused or contributed to the loss.

If you use natural gas, propane, kerosene or fuel oil, check that the exhaust vents are working properly, and that you are venting to the outside. Also clean out the dust from the blower motors, and check to see that the motor is working properly. Remember to change the filters regularly and use only a high quality fuel from a reputable dealer.

For wood stoves and fireplaces, check that the chimney or stovepipes are in good condition — no holes in the flue liner, mortar, or pipe. Be sure that the top is screened and capped. Be sure the chimney is clean and free of creosote buildup, animals and nests. Check that the doors and screens close properly, seal properly, and are in good condition.

Before you burn, clear all combustibles from around the appliance. Keep the area clean.

If you have pets or children, make the area safe for them as well. Have a fire extinguisher handy, across the room rather than right next to the stove or fireplace, and learn how to identify and what to do in case of a chimney fire.

Use only seasoned hardwood. Never use green or unseasoned wood, or use the appliance to burn trash — including paper or cardboard. Not only does this lead to creosote buildup, but it is also unhealthy, as well as illegal.

Start your fire small, with the draft and damper open wide. As the fire builds, gradually add larger pieces, adjust the draft and damper as needed. Starting with large pieces or adding too much too fast leads to creosote buildup. It is a good idea to have a “burn zone” indicator or thermometer in place to assure that the fire is not burning too cool and contributing to creosote buildup.

When you clean out the firebox, use a metal container. Take it outside and douse it with water immediately. Then dump it appropriately. Every year there are numerous fires started by people using cardboard boxes or paper bags to remove the ashes from their firebox and then leaving them in the house or putting them on a deck, in a trash can, or near combustibles — the same applies for metal containers.

When it is time to clean the chimney or stovepipes, know your own limitations. Know when you are no longer able to get up on a ladder or roof. If you are able, do so safely — secure your ladder appropriately, use the buddy system, avoid power lines and foul weather (this includes freezing temperatures).

When in doubt, hire a licensed and bonded chimney sweep. Don’t hestitate to ask for references, and check with the appropriate agencies as to the validity of their credentials.

If you are using portable heaters, do so safely. Keep combustibles away. Protect them from children and pets and vice versa. Avoid placing them where they may be a tripping hazard. Look for those that automatically shut off when tipped over. Always read the label and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Always have working smoke detectors and check them regularly. If they are electric, be sure to install one with a battery. Remember smoke detectors, heat detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors are not the same things, nor do they work the same way.

Always, always, always have working smoke detectors.

If you use any kind of wood or wood pellets, coal, natural gas, propane, kerosene or fuel oil to heat or cook indoors, get a working carbon monoxide detector now. It may save your life — it did mine!

As always, we welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact us care if the Town Crier or [email protected].

I’ve got some smells to sniff …

Remember to play it safe in all that you do.