As the winter season in Central Ohio begins, so begins the season for using fireplaces and wood stoves.

As the winter season in Central Ohio begins, so begins the season for using fireplaces and wood stoves.

Disposing of the ashes properly and making sure your chimney or stove exhaust pipe is clean will help keep you from falling victim to a fire.

Ashes can retain enough heat to start a blaze for several days after the original fire died out.

Wet the ashes you remove to make sure they are cold and then dispose of them in a metal container, not in paper bags or cardboard boxes.

Keep the container away from all combustible materials and away from your residence.

Chimney fires are caused by a build-up of creosote on the inner walls of the chimney or exhaust pipe.

Creosote, the residue that forms from incomplete combustion of wood, can be black, brown, flaky, tar-like, soft and sticky, or hard and shiny.

All forms are highly flammable, and when built up, can cause very hot fires that damage chimney structure (mortar, masonry, tiles) and nearby parts of the house.

Conditions that encourage creosote buildup are restricted air supply, unseasoned wood, and cooler-than-normal chimney temperatures.

Air supply on fireplaces can be restricted by closed glass doors or by failure to open the damper wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly.

A wood stove's air supply can be limited by closing the stove damper or air inlets too soon and too much, and improperly using the stovepipe damper to restrict air movement.

Because unseasoned wood has more moisture than seasoned wood, it burns cooler, resulting in cooler smoke that doesn't move as rapidly through the system, causing creosote buildup.

Exterior chimneys are cooler than ones that run through the center of a house and, as a result, are likely to have creosote build up more rapidly.

In the case of wood stoves, fully packed loads of wood burn cooler resulting in cooler smoke and more creosote buildup.

Smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke are better.

Signs of a chimney fire range from very obvious such as loud, low rumbling and sucking sounds with flames shooting out the top of your chimney, to hardly detectable, when they are slower burning.

Both can cause significant damage to the chimney structure and home.

The majority of home fires started by chimneys or chimney connectors begin in concealed or structural spaces adjacent to the chimney.

Clean chimneys don't catch fire.

Make sure a Chimney Safety Institute of America Certified Chimney Sweep inspects your chimney or stove's venting system each year, and cleans and repairs it when necessary.

Install and maintain a carbon monoxide alarm to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you experience a chimney fire, call the fire department immediately and get everyone out of the house.

Washington Township Fire department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.