As temperatures drop and fireplaces light up, Rancho Santa Fe Fire District officials remind 4S Ranch residents to assume responsibility for maintaining fireplace safety.

The local officials note that the National Fire Protection Association reported that 64,100 home heating fires were reported to U.S. fire departments in the latest annual statistics. The fires resulted in 540 deaths, 1,400 injuries and $943 million in property damage. And from 2003-2006, 39% of all home heating fires involved fireplaces and chimneys.

Most fireplace, chimney, and wood stove fires are caused by the build-up of creosote, an oily liquid found in wood that can remain on the inside of the chimney and harden. The built up creosote can then catch fire. The best way to avoid this is to have a professional, certified chimney specialist inspect and clean your chimney annually. To keep fire from spreading outside your fireplace, Rancho Santa Fe Fire District officials recommend that local residents: 

  • Clear the area around the fireplace of flammable materials.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen in front of fireplaces to keep embers from blowing into the room. If a fireplace has glass doors, the doors should be left open while the fire is burning.
  • Never restrict air supply to fireplaces.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes or trash in the fireplace.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Completely extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Maintain defensible space of your home by stacking firewood 30 feet away from your home, keeping the roof clear of leaves and pine needles, and removing branches hanging above the chimney to protect from fire and keep mice and other pests away.
  • Cover the chimney with a proper ½ inch mesh screen spark arrester.
    Injury prevention is another concern when using fireplaces. Both gas fireplaces and wood-burning fireplaces pose a safety hazard. To help avoid injury:

    • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
    • Use long fireplace matches to light the fire.
    • Never place painted or stained wood in the fireplace.
    • Keep the metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace closed at all times.
    • Supervise children at all times.
    • Remember that gas fireplaces can be hot before, during, and after the fire.
    • Do not attempt to burn your Christmas tree in your fireplace.

The mission of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District is “To protect life, property, and environment through prevention, preparedness, education and emergency response.” Formed in 1946, the Fire District now spans approximately 42-square miles and protects over 29,000 citizens. The Fire District currently operates out of four full-time fire stations and serves the communities surrounding Rancho Santa Fe and 4S Ranch.

For further information on these fireplace tips and fire safety, visit the district’s website at