What to Use and Not Use When Lighting Your Fireplace or Fire Pit

Getting a fire started is the first step to enjoying your fireplace or fire pit. You need three things to start a fire successfully: tinder, kindling, and firewood. The tinder is the initial ignition source, the kindling is the small sticks or wood that catch quickly and burn long enough to light the firewood, and the firewood is the main source of fuel for the life of the fire.

There are several commonly used options for tinder, but some of them can be dangerous or create too much ash. Crumpled newspaper, for example, is a common option, but it can float up and out of an uncapped chimney or away from your firepit, putting your nearby structures and even local forests at risk of fire. It also doesn't burn hot and creates an overabundance of ash. Using lint from clothes dryers for tinder is also a popular option, but it's messy and time-consuming, and it can lead to serious accidental burns when pouring the melted paraffin.

Commercial fire starters are available at most outdoor and home supply stores. Many of these contain some form of wood, either small chips or wood dust, sealed together with a wax binder. However, some brands list "additional components" that can include chemical accelerants that can be both physically and environmentally dangerous.

It's important to note that there are several "fire starters" that should never be used in the lighting of a fire due to health and safety concerns. Colored paper, glossy coated paper, or magazines should not be used as the inks and chemical pigments used to produce these pages are loaded with dangerous toxins that turn the smoke and fumes of the fire toxic as well, creating a serious health risk. Evergreen twigs or needles should also be avoided as they contain very high concentrations of highly flammable resin that burn extremely fast, making them a poor choice for tinder.

Using "burnable" trash is also a bad idea as most products, from mail to food containers, even non-plastic ones, contain chemicals that will produce hazardous fumes while burning. Gas or lighter fluid should never be used as a wood fire accelerant as they burn too quickly and can result in explosions, uncontrolled property fires, forest fires, and fatalities.

The best option for starting a safe and healthy fire is to stick with fire starter packages consisting of all-natural, kiln-dried components. These natural components typically result in a fire that's much faster and much easier to start, and more pleasant to be around. They also produce less particulate emissions and carbon dioxide than other methods, making them safer for both your family and the environment.