How To Start a Fire In a Fireplace

WRITTEN BY: Mark Romero


A fireplace is a great element that adds coziness and warmth to your home. To safely use your one and reduce house fire risk, you should know how to start a fire in a fireplace properly. 

Fireplace safety and prep 

Over 25,000 chimney fires cause millions in property damage annually. If you own a home with a fireplace, ensure you regularly clean and maintain your fireplace properly each year to reduce chimney fires. 

Ash, dust, soot, birds’ nests, and other debris can block your chimney. Creosote, a byproduct from burning wood, can build up your chimney’s interior and must be removed. These simple tips will offer a safe fireplace for your cozy nights by the fire. 

Have a professional inspect your chimney

You should have an annual inspection by a trained chimney sweep to look for any defects in your chimney. They can verify if your chimney needs repair and remove any blockages. 

Check the area surrounding the fireplace

Flammable objects, such as curtains, books, magazines, and other materials, should never be near your fireplace. If close enough to the fireplace, they may ignite. Before lighting any fires, quickly sweep for possible flammable objects and remove them.

Clear the air

Ensure your fire is safe by only starting a fire in a well-ventilated area without any flammable materials. Be sure you clean out any ash in the fireplace before starting a fire, and open the damper on your fireplace so smoke emits carefully.

Make sure you have a fireplace grate for safety

Not only does a grate add a stylish touch to your fireplace, but it also improves the circulation of air around the logs for better combustion. If you have pets or children, it also protects them from getting too close to the fire.

Best and worst fuels for starting a fire in a fireplace

Not every material is the same for starting a fire. You shouldn’t use lighter fluids, fire accelerants, or paper to start a fire in your fireplace, as these can be unsafe. The best fuel sources for fireplaces are certain woods and commercial fire logs. Paper is only suitable for kindling with wood.


Hardwoods like oak, hickory, and ash are among the best ways to start a fireplace fire. Highly dense, they burn longer with less smoke than softwoods, such as cedar and red pine. 

Commercial fire logs

Commercial fire logs typically use compressed wood materials, such as sawdust, offering a cleaner burn than many kinds of wood. They are handy if you don’t have access to fresh firewood and want an inexpensive way to start your fireplace.


Charcoal isn’t safe in your fireplace because it burns much quicker than other materials, such as wood, and could quickly get out of control. It’s an accelerant, which can help spread a fire faster. You also risk your health as burning charcoal indoors produces high levels of carbon monoxide.

Log cabin method

There are two standard methods to start a fire in a fireplace. The first, the log cabin method, is also known as the criss-cross method. The log cabin method is similar to using the building toy, Lincoln Logs, from childhood; this method is also sometimes called a “Lincoln log fire.”

Gather your supplies

Ensure you have everything, including logs, kindling, and fire tools. Your kindling may be small piles of twigs, newspaper, or a mixture. The logs should have all bark removed.

Stacking the first set of logs 

Start with your logs and make your bottom frame, stacking them on top of each other in a square. 

Add kindling and additional logs 

Grab your kindling, and place it within the stacked logs. Then add a second set of logs on top of the first set, and follow with a third if desired. 

Stop before your log stack gets too high. You should only have it be less than your fireplace’s size. Finally, light your kindling, replace your fireplace grate, and enjoy your crackling fire.

Top-down method

The other popular method for how to start a fireplace fire is the top-down method. With the top-down approach, you place your kindling on the stacked wood so the fire burns as pieces drop down from the top.

Supplies needed

You will use the same supplies you use with the log cabin method. Gather your kindlings, logs, and fire safety tools.  

Set the logs 

Start with your largest logs, and place them parallel at the bottom of the fireplace. Take your smaller logs, and set them on the others, but in the opposite direction. Follow this pattern until you’re happy with the height. 

Add kindling

Once you’ve finished stacking your logs, add your kindling on top. Light the pile from the top, not the bottom. Your fire will slowly grow with little smoke and ignite as the embers from the top fall below. 


Why can’t I start a fire in my fireplace?

First, check and see if your damper is open. If the damper is open and you can’t determine any other cause, contact a chimney service company to inspect your chimney for any defects or blockages.

How do you start a fire in a fireplace with a lighter?

You should only use log lighters and other approved lighting materials to start a fire. A match is a tried-and-true method, though it may take longer than a lighter. Hold your lighter to the kindling and let it ignite, then nudge the kindling or logs carefully with your fireplace poker to help the fire spread.

How do you unblock a blocked fireplace?

Clear out all of the ash and soot in your fireplace. Next, look carefully into the fireplace and chimney to see if you can spot apparent blockages, such as leaves, birds’ nests, and debris. A blocked fireplace can lead to carbon monoxide buildup and chimney fires, so contact a professional if a blockage persists. 

How do I know if my fireplace is blocked?

Several warning signs indicate you may have a blocked fireplace. A smoky smell when burning a fire can indicate a blockage, as can falling debris and smoke coming back into your home after burning. Your carbon monoxide alarm may also go off from a severe blockage that leaks fumes into the house. If these signs occur, contact a professional, and don’t use your fireplace. 

Why is my fireplace clicking but not lighting?

First, you should check and see if the gas is on. A gas fireplace uses an igniter to start a fire in your fireplace. When you push the button for the igniter, it may click but not light if debris or dust is blocking the igniter. Clear it off gently, then wait a minute and try again. 

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