How do I start my fireplace for the first time? You might think starting a fire in your fireplace for the first time will be easy. When they think of a fireplace, most people imagine relaxing placidly by an already perfectly formed, lovely fire. They don’t think about the preparation behind the fire. There are actually several preliminary steps and precautions to take before you even light a fire. Here is a definitive list of steps to take when lighting your first fire.

Install Detectors and an Extinguisher

Before you start your fireplace for the first time, install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector to let you know if too much smoke is building up or if carbon monoxide is present. Also, install a fire extinguisher near the fireplace.

Check for Blockage

Next, make sure nothing is blocking the chimney, such as debris or a bird’s nest. Otherwise, since the chimney is meant to vent smoke out of the home, the smoke will have nowhere to go but inside the house. Also, make sure there is a flue cover at the top of the chimney to prevent sparks from causing an exterior roof or building fire.

Make sure the chimney has been swept for creosote and soot buildup, which can cause a chimney fire. You should have your chimney and fireplace inspected annually.

Use a Screen

Get a screen or a metal fireplace curtain and put it in front of the fire to prevent sparks from flying onto furniture or carpeting. The screen should cover the entire front of the fireplace. Keep pets and children away from the fire.


Put small sticks, pieces of wood, and some crumpled up newspaper on top of the internal fireplace grate. You can also put crumpled newspaper below the grate. Stack wood logs horizontally on top of the kindling in a criss-cross pattern, leaving some openings for airflow. Add some more small sticks to the wood.

Open the Damper

Open the damper, located inside the chimney at the fireplace end. Generally, you pull it down to open it and push it up to close it. The damper should always be open when the fireplace is in use. You can close it when it’s not in use to lessen drafty air coming through the chimney from outside.

Light the Fire

Using a long-handled lighter or matches, ignite the newspaper and kindling. Stir the sticks around with a fireplace poker until the logs ignite. 

Never leave a fire unattended. Make sure the fire is completely out if you leave the house or go to bed.

Avoid Chimney Fires

Keep your chimney clean to protect it from chimney fires. Chimney fires are a big deal; they can even be deadly. And they may not be obvious. While some chimney fires are loud and dramatic, most go unnoticed until inspection time.

Some chimney fire indicators include a popping sound coming from the chimney, abundant smoke, or a hot smell coming from the chimney. Some chimney fires are as noisy as a train or low-flying plane. However, the majority are unrecognized.

A slow-burning chimney fire can do as much damage and be as great of a threat to your chimney and even your home as a noisy fire.


Chimneys exhaust the byproducts of combustion: water vapor, smoke, gases, unburned wood particles, tar fog, hydrocarbon, and assorted minerals pass from the fireplace through the cooler chimney, creating condensation. The sticky residue left on the inside of the chimney is called creosote.

Creosote is highly combustible, and if there’s enough creosote buildup in your chimney, it can make for a dangerous situation. Certain conditions cause creosote to build up, including low air supply, unseasoned wood, and cooler than usual chimney temperatures. You may inadvertently restrict air supply by closing the glass doors or not opening the damper wide enough.

Masonry Chimneys

When a chimney fire occurs in a masonry chimney, the high temperature (2,000 degrees) can collapse liners, melt mortar, crack tiles and damage outer masonry. Frequently, thermal shock occurs, displaces mortar and cracks tiles, and opens a pathway for the fire to reach the house’s wood frame. If this happens, you should call 911 right away.

Prefabricated Chimneys

Prefabricated metal chimneys are built to withstand temperatures up to 2100 degrees without sustaining damage. However, in a chimney fire, damage can still occur. If they do get damaged by a chimney fire, they should be replaced.

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves can withstand hot temperatures but the connector pipes that run from the stove to the chimney cannot. In a chimney fire, these pipes can warp and buckle, and if this happens, they would need to be replaced.

Signs That You’ve Had a Chimney Fire

A CSIA-certified chimney sweep will look for these signs of a chimney fire in and around your chimney:

  • Puffy creosote
  • Creosote flakes on the floor or ground
  • Warped damper metal or connector pipe metal
  • Cracked, broken, or collapsed flue tiles
  • Damaged roofing material from hot creosote
  • Discolored or warped rain cap
  • Cracks in exterior masonry
  • Smoke escaping through masonry mortar joints or tile liners
  • Heat-damaged TV antenna on the chimney

If you think you’ve had a chimney fire, call a CSIA-certified chimney sweep immediately. A CSIA-certified chimney sweep will inspect your chimney for signs of fire, damage incurred and make recommendations about how to repair the chimney. In some cases, you may have to replace a chimney that’s experienced a chimney fire.

At Brick + Ember Outfitters of Indianapolis, we are CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) certified. If you have concerns about your fireplace or chimney, don’t hesitate. We offer comprehensive fireplace and chimney services to help you with all of your maintenance and repair needs. Give us a call at 317-500-1250 or make an appointment on our website today.