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4 Apr 2023
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Mammoth Vacation Planning

Fireplaces and wood burning stoves are very common here in Mammoth Lakes. So, whether you’ve booked one of our condos at Mountainback, Sierra Park Villas, Mammoth Ski & Racquet Club or another one of our properties, you’ll be able to enjoy this cozy feature yourself.

But, if you’ve never used a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you might feel a little stumped (pun intended!) about the process. How do you start a fire? How can you keep it roaring? And what do you need to know about safely putting it out? 

You’ll be a fireplace pro by the end of this article!

Step One: Make sure the damper is open

When a fireplace is not in use, a kind of trap door called a damper seals the interior chamber of the chimney to keep out cold air and critters. You’ll need to open the damper before using your fireplace so that your condo doesn’t fill up with smoke. Opening the damper will also create a draft that pulls hot air up and out of the condo, a necessary process in feeding the flames and creating that hot, roaring fire you’re after.  

The damper is opened with a chain or metal handle located on the inside of the fireplace. It should be fairly easy to find, but you may need to use a light to locate it. By pulling on the chain or handle, you’ll open the damper. You should feel cold air flowing within the chimney once you open it.

If the damper was closed, the interior of your chimney, called the flue, will be cold. That can make starting a fire more difficult. So, you may want to wait a while for the air inside your condo to warm up the flue. Or, if you don’t want to wait, you can light a rolled up newspaper or piece of cardboard and place it on the metal grate of your fireplace. The flame won’t last long, but it can serve as a kind of preheating process for your fireplace. 

A wood burning stove has air controls instead of a manual damper. So, all you need to do is set those controls to “open” before starting your fire.

Step Two: Stack your logs

Once you’ve established that your damper is open and your flue is warm, it’s time to stack some logs! Based on availability, you’ll find firewood stacked on your balcony or in the firewood holder next to your fireplace. You’ll need about four or five small to medium pieces of wood to get started.

And while you may think that there’s some secret way to stack logs to ensure a roaring fire every time, the truth is, log stacking is not an art. You just want to make sure that the logs are stacked in such a way as to facilitate good air flow. 

Place two of the smaller pieces long-ways on the bottom of the rack with a bit of space in between, and then stack another couple on top in a parallel or staggered position. In this way, you’re creating air pockets that will trap heat and provide oxygen for the flames.

Step Three: Add some kindling

Kindling can be anything from crumpled up newspaper to pinecones or dried pine needles. Or, you may have a few fire starters in your condo that can be used in place of traditional kindling. In general, a mix of both is your best bet!

If using natural kindling, you can stuff it into the air gaps that you created in your log stack. Don’t overpack, otherwise the flames won’t have enough oxygen to survive. 

If using a firestarter, read the instructions on the packaging for best use. Some recommend that you place it on the fireplace rack while others suggest that you place it on top or in the middle of your stacked logs.

Step Four: Light the match

You’ve set yourself up for a successful fire, and now it’s time to light the match! Make sure that you get a good flame going on your firestarter or your kindling. It’s better to light kindling at different locations to increase the heat quickly.

Step Five: Don’t walk away!

Starting a fire in a fireplace usually isn’t as simple as “set it and forget it.” In fact, a common mistake is to think that you’re good to go as soon as the kindling goes up in flames. Unfortunately, a strong fire right at the beginning doesn’t mean that your logs have caught on fire. 

So, stick around and watch for a few minutes. If your kindling fire is starting to dwindle before you see flames on the logs, you’ll need to add more newspaper or pinecones. You can also fan the flames gently or blow on them to encourage the fire. Make sure that you protect your face from flying embers during this process.

Step Six: Keep an eye on your fire

Once you see flames on the larger pieces of wood, you can be sure that your fire is fine for now. Close the screen or the door of your wood-burning stove before walking away.

As the fire burns, keep an eye on it to see whether it needs additional logs. At times, a log may need to be moved or repositioned in order to encourage better ventilation. You can do this with the use of the fireplace tools, like a poker or tongs, located beside the fireplace. Remember that you may need to open the screen with the use of one of these tools, as the metal can get hot. 

Step Seven: Extinguish safely

If you’re lighting a fire in the fireplace to enjoy a cozy night in, you don’t have to take extreme measures to put the fire out before bed. Simply cut off the fire’s fuel source, i.e. additional logs, about a half hour before you want the fire to go out. When you’re ready for bed, spread the ashes out along the bottom of the fireplace or wood-burning stove and shovel cold ash over the embers to smother them.

It’s never a good idea to leave a fire burning without supervision. If you plan on going out for dinner, for instance, you won’t want to leave the condo until all visible flames have gone out. Even once the fire has burned down, keep the door or screen closed in the case of a stray spark.

Between fires, it’s a good idea to discard the ash that’s accumulated in the bottom of the fireplace. Make sure that the ash is 100% cold before discarding it in the metal bin placed next to the fireplace or in the kitchen trash can.

With a bit of practice, you’ll light a fireplace fire like a local!

Starting a fire in a fireplace or wood burning stove can be deceptively tricky if you’ve never done it before. But, now that you have the basics, you’re ready to try it for yourself! 

Looking for a condo in Mammoth Lakes with a fireplace? We have plenty of options with this feature to take your mountain vacation to next level coziness!