Wood, Coal and Pellet Stoves

In Massachusetts in 2015, there were 689 fire incidents involving chimneys, fireplaces, and woodstoves. These fires were responsible for one civilian injury, one firefighter injury, and resulted in $3.9 million in property losses. These incidents make up 42% of all fires linked to heating systems.

Tips for Safe Use of Wood, Coal and Pellet Stoves


Before you purchase a heating stove, make sure that it has the approval from an independent testing lab, such as Underwriter's Laboratories.


  • Solid fuel heating appliances cannot share a common flue with chimney flues utilized by another solid fuel, fossil fuel, or gas fires appliances.Allow at least 36 inches of clearance around the appliance to prevent combustibles from coming into contact with a heat source. This is the 3-foot circle of safety. 
  • A building permit must be obtained prior to the installation of fireplaces, wood, pellet or coal burning stoves. They must be inspected by the local building inspector prior to their initial use as required by the Massachusetts State Building Code. 
  • 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 and maintain smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms to provide protection for your family.

Fire From Ashes

  • To prevent fires, ashes that are cleaned out from the stove or fireplace should be shoveled into a metal bucket with a metal lid and placed outside on the ground 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. A live ember can continue to smolder unnoticed for quite some time.

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 is the #1 source of carbon monoxide in homes. Both types of alarms are required by law in Massachusetts.