For Immediate Release - January 02, 2013

Keep Warm, Keep Safe: Tips for Safe Disposal of Ashes

State Fire Marshal Offers Tips to Keep Warm Keep Safe This Winter

“As the cold weather has hit, many people are using fireplaces and woodstoves to keep warm. We have had several fires started by improper disposal of ashes this heating season,” said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan, “It is a sad way to end what should have been a happy holiday season.”

Prevent Fires from Woodstove & Fireplace Ashes

Coan said, “To prevent fires, ashes cleaned out of woodstoves and fire places should be shoveled into a metal bucket with a tight-fitting metal lid and immediately placed outside, well away from the building. There have been many recent fires from ashes stored underneath a deck or porch or inside the garage or from ashes stored in cardboard boxes, paper bags and plastic trashcans. A single live ember can continue to smolder undetected for quite some time.”

On January 2, 2013, a fire in Carver was started when ashes were places in a paper bag outside but leaning against the home. The shingles ignited.

On December 28, 2012, a Milton home ignited when fireplace ashes were put in a cardboard box in the garage. The home as seriously damaged, five people were displaced, and one pet perished.

On November 18, 2012 a fire started in the garage of a Plymouth home. The cause was improper disposal of hot woodstove ashes.

In Massachusetts in 2011, there were 851 fire incidents involving chimneys, fireplaces, and woodstoves. These fires were responsible for six civilian injuries, ten firefighter injuries, and resulted in $2.2 million in property losses. Last winter was unseasonably warm which resulted in a significant drop in heating fires.

It is important to use all heating sources safely. Here is some information on preventing fires from chimneys, wood, coal and pellet stoves.

Tips for Safe Use of Wood, Coal and Pellet Stoves

Before you purchase a heating stove, make sure that it has approval from Underwriters Laboratories Inc. or another recognized independent testing lab.


  • A building permit needs to be obtained prior to installation of fireplaces, fireplace inserts, wood, coal or pellet burning stoves and must be inspected by the local building inspector prior to their initial use as required by the Massachusetts State Building Code.
  • Allow at least 36 inches of clearance around the appliance to prevent combustibles from coming into contact with heat sources.
  • Solid fuel heating appliances cannot share a common flue with chimney flues utilized by other solid, fossil, or gas fired appliances.
  • A qualified mason should inspect the chimney and flue before the stove is used. Cracks in the flue or mortar joints can allow flames and heated gases to extend into the structure.

Proper Use

  • Most chimney fires occur because of a build-up of creosote, a tarry by-product of burning wood. Have your chimney flue cleaned before each heating season. Burn only dry, well seasoned, hardwood to reduce creosote accumulation.
  • Don’t use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Never leave children unattended near the stove.
  • Check that the damper is open before lighting the fire. A closed damper will result in an accumulation of smoke and carbon monoxide in the home. Do not close the damper until the fire is out and the embers are cold.
  • Use a fireplace screen to prevent flying sparks and embers from falling out on to the floor.

Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Install smoke alarms to warn of a fire, but also have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home to warn about deadly fumes from a faulty furnace, fireplace and oven flue or other venting problem. Problems with heating systems are the #1 source of carbon monoxide in homes. Both types of alarms are required by law in Massachusetts.

More Information

The Department of Fire Services has a tri-fold pamphlet on Chimney and Woodstove Safety that can be downloaded from its website at:

The U.S. Fire Administration also has information on fireplace and home fire safety at