48. The Romantic Center

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Fireplaces tend to affect people in a strange way. They seem to have a romance all their own. Well they should. Fireplaces were once the center of family life. When the West was being settled, the fireplace was the only energy source in the home. It provided heat, light, and cooking facilities. We have all heard the tale of Abe Lincoln being born in a log cabin. He is said to have studied his law books in front of the open fire. He did his writing on the back of the fireplace shovel.

In large Colonial homes, there were a number of fireplaces. There would be one in the living room and another in the library. Often, there would be a fireplace in each bedroom. People burned logs in the open fireplace because logs were the only fuel that was around. Later, modern fireplaces burned “gas logs.” These were artificial logs that were really gas outlets. Many of these are still around today.

As homes began to be built with heating furnaces, fireplaces started to disappear. While a few homes still had them, they were more for show than anything else. In fact, some of the fireplaces in today’s homes are not really fireplaces at all. That is, they do not have hearths or chimneys or dampers or other things that a fireplace needs. It would be quite dangerous to build a real fire in one of these.

But today, fireplaces have begun to make a strong comeback. Part of this is due to the high cost of fuel and energy. People are using them more and more. With this new use, there is a need for people to learn the rules for fireplace safety.

There are some things we should all know about open fires in the home. For example, did you know that sparks can leap from an open fire? These sparks can ignite anything in the room that will burn. This is why a screen made of wire or special glass should be placed across the fireplace.

If charcoal is burned in a poorly vented fireplace, deadly gases could be released into the room. Logs you buy at the store are made of sawdust and wax. These should be handled differently from natural logs. They should be burned one at a time and not stacked.

A fireplace can be lovely. It can also be a killer if not used properly.

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