If there's one thing surer than leftover fruitcake during the holidays, it's discarded wrapping paper. If you find yourself tempted to stuff it in the fireplace and strike a match, the experts at the National Fire Prevention Association have one word of advice: Don't.
Trying to burn wrapping paper and packaging can touch off a chimney fire, and it's among the reasons house fires double on Christmas Day. The problem comes from the way paper burns. With low moisture content and a large surface area, gift wrapping burns hot and fast with a high flame. That's the perfect igniter for a chimney fire (see details below).
Even if your chimney escapes unscathed, paper embers can float up and land on your roof, setting it ablaze. Gift wrapping also can contain pigments that are toxic when burned.
The best solution: Choose minimal packaging and recyclable wrapping paper whenever possible, and put it out for collection with the rest of your recyclables. For metallic and fancy embellished wrapping? Dispose of it in the trash, rather than risk a fire.
WHAT'S A CHIMNEY FIRE AND HOW CAN I PREVENT ONE?
Dirty chimneys are a leading cause of structure fires, with "failure to clean equipment" blamed for about one-third of fatal home-heating fires.
The "dirt" is actually creosote, a byproduct of burning wood. It sticks to the inside of the chimney, builds up, and over time can ignite, causing nine out of 10 chimney fires.
If you burn even half a cord of wood per year, the Claims experts at PEMCO recommend you hire a professional chimney sweep to evaluate your chimney. Not only can they remove creosote buildup, they can check your chimney for other potential fire hazards. It's not exactly cheap (about $300 isn't unusual), but your peace of mind is priceless.
For help in finding a professional chimney sweep near you, try the Chimney Safety Institute of America's sweepfinder search.