Kids Safety 101
family feet in front of fireplace

Read This Before You Build Your First Fire of the Year

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, then you know that nothing can compare to the cozy ambiance on a winter’s evening. But kids and open flames are a bad combination. How can you keep everyone safe while still enjoying a fire? Read on for simple safety tips!

Adult Supervision

First and foremost, never allow kids to be in the same room as a fire without supervision. That includes walking away for even a moment to check on something in another room. Regardless of whether the fire is gas, wood, or electric, it presents countless dangers–and, often, temptations–for unsupervised kids.

Keep a fire extinguisher near the fireplace, but make sure that the area is otherwise clear. That’s especially important near the holidays, when flammable decorations could easily catch fire.

Always check that the damper or flue is open before starting a fire. Don’t leave more than an inch of ash in the bottom of a wood-burning fireplace. And before the first fire of the year, have your chimney checked by a pro. Even if you think it’s clean, there could be leaves or even bird nests higher up that you can’t see.

Use Protection

A number of safety tools are available to make your fireplace less of a risk. First, a safety fence, gate, or screen is essential if you have babies or toddlers in the house. They aren’t old enough to understand the lesson that fire burns, so keeping them a safe distance from the fireplace is your best option.

Free-standing fireplace screens should not be used, as those are too easy for children to pull over onto themselves.

You may also want to cover any exposed brick or rock edges–but make sure to remove those potentially flammable materials when the fireplace is in use. Another must-have is a carbon monoxide detector. A blocked chimney can quickly cause a buildup of this odorless, colorless gas.

It’s also a good idea to keep fireplace tools out of reach. Pokers and other tools can turn into dangerous weapons if kids decide to play with them. Finally, a locking mechanism for fireplace glass doors can be a literal lifesaver.

Bonfires and Fire Pits

Outdoor fires bring their own special set of concerns. Although you don’t have to worry about cleaning a chimney or opening the flue, outdoor fire pits and bonfires typically offer fewer safety measures. Very young children should not be present if you’re enjoying a bonfire. Older kids who understand why it’s important to stay clear couldĀ participate, but it’s still riskier than a fireplace.

Teens and tweens are injured every year from illicit bonfires. Make sure to talk to your kids about the dangers, including the possibility of sparking a wildfire. Bonfires should always be put out completely, including stirring the ashes and dousing them with water. Bonfires, alcohol, and fireworks should never, ever mix.

Erin Long