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During the fall and winter months, many homeowners light their fireplaces to help keep their homes warm and cozy. Plus, as countless movies have taught us, fireplaces can provide optimal ambiance for a romantic night in with a significant other.

However, unless precautions are taken, improper use of fireplaces could lead to house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. To help you enjoy a fireplace safely, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers the following tips:

1. Be sure the fireplace was constructed for actual use, not just for decoration. Inspect it to ensure that it has adequate protective linings and smoke ducts and that the chimney is clear and in good repair.

2. Open the damper before lighting the fire, and keep it open until the ashes are cool. This will avert the buildup of poisonous gases, especially while the family is sleeping.

3. Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light or relight a fire because the vapors can explode. Also, never keep flammable fuels near a fire.

4. Don’t use coal or charcoal in a fireplace due to the danger of carbon monoxide buildup. It isn’t a good idea to burn trash or wrappings either because coated materials can generate deadly fumes. Flying paper embers could also ignite the roof.

5. Don’t treat artificial logs like real logs. Artificial ones are usually made of sawdust and wax and have special burning properties. Be sure to read the product instructions and follow them carefully. Don’t poke artificial logs, as it could cause a flare-up, or the flaming wax could stick to the poker and drop onto the floor.

6. Don’t overload the fireplace. Large fires can lead to overheating of wall or roof materials, particularly if the fireplace is constructed of metal.

7. Always use a screen around the fireplace to keep sparks from flying out and to protect children and adults from accidental clothing ignition.

8. Warn children about the danger of fire. Do not let them play with it.

9. Keep flammable materials such as carpets, pillows, furniture or papers away from the fireplace area. During the holidays, be sure decorations aren’t close enough to be ignited by a spark.

10. Before retiring for the night or when leaving the house, make sure the fire is out completely.

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