Preparing for Wildfire Season in Nevada County – Week 14: What Wood Stoves Want and campfire safety

NEVADA CITY, Calif. March 11, 2019 – Wood stoves are still a popular heating source in the area. Burning safely not only reduces health risks but also reduces the chance of chimney fires.

The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District provides these three Burn Wise Tips:

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1. Save money and time. Burn only dry, seasoned wood and maintain a hot fire.

  • Season and dry wood outdoors for at least 6 months before burning it. 12 months for hardwoods like oak.
  • Start fires with clean newspaper and dry kindling or consider having a professional install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
  • Burn hot fires.
  • Don’t burn wet wood: it creates a lot of smoke and burns inefficiently.
  • Never burn garbage, plastic, or pressure treated wood, which can produce harmful chemicals when burned.
  • Learn more at EPA.gov about best burn practices.

2. Keep your appliance properly maintained.

  • To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your wood-burning appliance into a metal container with a cover and store outdoors.
  • Have a certified technician inspect and service your appliance annually.
  • Have your chimney annually cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Nearly 7 percent of home fires are caused by creosote build up in the chimney.
  • A properly installed and maintained wood-burning appliance burns more efficiently.
  • If you smell smoke in your home, something is wrong. Shut down the appliance and call a certified chimney sweep to inspect the unit.
  • Learn more at EPA.gov about correct installation and maintenance.

3. Keep your home healthy by upgrading to an efficient, EPA-approved wood-burning appliance.

  • Today’s wood-burning appliances burn cleaner and produce less smoke inside and outside your home.
  • Efficient wood-burning appliances burn less wood, saving time and money.
  • Learn how to choose the best appliance for your needs at EPA.gov. Click here to see if there are any active grants for replacing your old wood stove.

Can your ashes!

Proper disposal of ashes reduces fire danger for you and your neighborhood, especially during the Fall shoulder season. Firefighters regularly respond to vegetation fires caused by still hot ashes or BBQ coals improperly disposed of. Embers from hot ashes easily reignite!

  • Have heating equipment, chimney and stove inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep every fall just before heating season.
  • Allow ashes to COOL before disposing of them. Four days or 96 hours is the minimum recommended cooling period for ashes.
  • Place completely cooled ashes in a covered metal container. Keep the container at least 10 feet away from the home and other buildings. They should NEVER be disposed of in a plastic garbage box or can, a cardboard box, or paper grocery bag. Never use a vacuum cleaner to pick up ashes.
  • The metal container should be placed away from anything flammable. It should not be placed next to a firewood pile, up against or in the garage, on or under a wood deck, or under a porch.
  • After sitting for a week in the metal container, check them again to be sure that they are cool. If so, the ashes are then safe to dispose of in your trash.
  • As a safety precaution keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from a fireplace, wood stove, or any other heating appliance, and create a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires. It is important to make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying, and never leave a fire unattended, particularly when children are present.

Outdoor and camp fire safety

Sitting around a campfire is nice, but ask yourself if you really need a fire when at the same time you’re trying to cool your house down because it’s so hot outside.

Safe camp stoves for cooking are always an option and you can find the ideal lightweight or large stove at your favorite outfitter.

If you are camping on public land, you need a campfire permit. You can get these free permits at any CAL FIRE, U.S. Forest Service, or BLM office. Check for fire restrictions as well, during peak fire season campfires can be restricted.

Camping Fire Safety—How to Build an Open Campfire

Select a level, open location away from heavy fuels such as logs, brush or decaying leaves and needles. Clear an area at least 10 feet in diameter (local regulations may vary). Scrape away grass, leaves or needles down to the mineral soil. Scoop a depression in the center of the cleared area in which to build the fire and put a ring of rocks around it. Cut wood in short lengths, pile within cleared area and light the fire. The fire should be built no larger than necessary. Your fire must never be left unattended and the fire must be extinguished completely before leaving.

While the Fire is Burning/Open Fire Safety

Always keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby at all times. While the fire is burning, be sure there is a responsible person in attendance of the fire at all times. Never leave children around a fire unattended.

How to Completely Extinguish an Open Campfire

Use the “drown, stir and feel” method: drown the fire with water, then stir around the fire area with your shovel to wet any remaining embers and ash. Be sure to turn wood and coals over and wet all sides. Move some dirt onto the fire site and mix thoroughly to fully smother it. And finally, feel the area with the back of your hand to ensure nothing is still smoldering.

South Yuba Fire Ban

In Nevada County, no open fires on private property are permitted starting the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend through the end of CAL FIRE’s declared fire season in 2019 in the South Yuba canyon. The ordinance was designed to complement the fire restrictions on public lands. Specifically, the Urgency Ordinance prohibits open fire on private property within a quarter mile on each side of the ordinary high mark of the South Yuba River in Nevada County from where the river meets with Kentucky Creek below Bridgeport to Lang’s Crossing, stretching across 39 miles.

The Urgency Ordinance includes four exceptions to allow for reasonable and responsible summer activities, like having barbecues, but with some safety restrictions. Small recreational fires in organized campgrounds with the proper clearance are permitted, and small recreational fires in permanent fire pits or rings no larger than 5 feet in diameter that are within 30 feet of a designated water system, not including the river, but that are at least 25’ away from any combustible structure that include the proper clearance are permitted as well. Barbecues are also permitted so as long as they are within 30 feet of a designated water system and have the proper clearance around them as well. Allowed recreational or cooking fires not in a designated recreational site must be on an improved parcel with an occupying resident or property owner present on the property. Lastly, the Urgency Ordinance also provided an exception for smoking, so as long as it is inside, in a vehicle or in an area that is cleared of all non-structural, flammable material by a minimum of 5 feet.” [source: Nevada County] In plain English: No water, no fire.

This concludes Week 14 of 25, next Monday we’ll focus on evacuation routes.

Find previous stories in our special Ready for Fire Season section.