Why is it dangerous to burn wrapping paper OR EVERGREENS?


Cecile’s column about burning wrapping paper in your fireplace, and why it is dangerous, is timely for this time of year. https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2684/deck-the-halls-with-balls-of-fire/

I’d like to add two things about burning “der Tannenbaum” as being another rather bad idea.

  1. If you read the part about why paper is bad (surface to volume ratio being much higher than wood) then stop and think about all those tiny needles. Now you really have some surface to ignite! Try burning a few limbs outside in the back yard sometime to see just what this can do. A whole tree? Woooooof!

  2. Burning hardwood (oak, etc) doesn’t create much creosote in your chimney. Soft woods (spelled Christmas tree) is loaded with resins and will coat your chimney is no time flat.

Forewarned is forearmed!

  • OHM

Thank you. I just warned Son-of-a-wrek about burning paper in his wood stove. He told me it was an old wives tale. I have already sent him an article I found online about it. Now I’m gonna do the worst thing I can do. I’m gonna call his wife and tell on him.

The tree also may seem dry, but really isn’t, because it takes a LONG time to season wood for fireplace use.

… is valid, but a trifle overwrought. If you burn a moderate amount of paper at a time, the overtemp problems he (or she - Cecile?) notes are not an issue.

Cecil is always right. ( to me, I believe in Santa too):wink:

I tossed some branches off the Xmas tree into dad’s fireplace once. The heat and roar was frightening so I closed the glass doors. It melted the heads off the screws that attached the handles through the glass and they fell off.

When I remodeled a century home I bought I stripped all the old plaster and lath and piled the lath in the garden. The pile was probably 10 feet in diameter and 6-7 feet high. I got out the hose just to control it a bit and lit it.

Holy crap was it hot! The fire got so wild I decided to quench it a bit. What a joke. The full pressure water stream just went in to the blaze and disappeared. It had no effect whatsoever.

As a bonus the next year I had so damn many zucchini it was ridiculous. I guess they like the potash.



As I learned here, it was a similar fuel (tally sticks) which destroyed the old British Parliament building in 1834. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_of_Parliament. Just trying to get rid of old accounting records in the furnace…

Not just embers. Whole sheets of burning paper can waft up the chimney and land anywhere.

Is the OP specifically about burning wrapping paper or evergreen branches in a fireplace? Or about burning them anywhere in general?

Around here, you’ll occasionally see people make impromptu New Year’s Eve bonfires with used Christmas trees. Of course, they are burned outdoors well away from structures.

Things like this always confuse me. I understand easily how burning embers make it out of a chimney and wreak havoc on the neighborhood. But a chimney fire that is just burning off the creosote? Why is that problematic? If the chimney and cap are made of fire proof material, why wouldn’t it just burn itself out and be cleaner for the process?

Likewise this description of the parliament fire. The flues went under the floors and through the walls to warm the whole building. Why would the hot (-ter than usual) air going through those flues have caused the building to burn? Surely no combustible material would have made it through all those twists, turns, and horizontal stretches to start a fire on the roof?

The only thing I can think of is that they used lead to make the flues and they just melted away, exposing the subfloors and inner walls to the fire.

Copper. So I think it might have it would have been joined with tin/lead solder… And if the fires too hot, it will also destroy mortar. Apart from that, I got nothing. There’d be a big thick government report, but it’s probably not on the internet.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America has some guidance:

FIL (v.1.0) told me that the creosote in their chimney would light off. It was very impressive, but did not damage anything.

Hence I would believe most recent chimney installs are double or triple lined flues. Mine is.

Code-Schmode! :smiley:

My local news had a report today stating that most wrapping paper is not recyclable, and should not be burned either, because it’s coated with a very thin film of plastic, which is why it’s so slippery and relatively stain-repellent. Some of the more expensive papers may also have metals in them.

They also said that strings of lights need to be disposed of in regular garbage, or e-waste if you wish to recycle them. In addition (and this wasn’t on the news), the libraries here in town have boxes for non-working lights, presumably for a project they’ll be doing later on.

We had a wood burning stove in Carson City and one afternoon it started moaning. Like an idiot I opened the door (tugging against the vacuum inside the firebox) and – Whoom! – the fire took off in earnest. I slammed the door shut and closed the damper before heading for the kitchen to bring back the baking soda. It took the whole box to make a dent in it. I quickly purchased one of those solid stove fire snuffers but never had to use it.

Anyway, I went outside to check for damage and was instantly grateful we had a steel roof. The deck outside had been carpeted with astroturf and for a five-foot radius around the stove pipe were scattered quarter-inch creosote embers that had melted their way through the grass to the base underneath. If we’d had a shake roof, it may well have caught fire.

I’ve never had a chimney without a grid (keeps flaming bits in; keeps swifts out). I’ve always put non-metallic wrapping paper in the fireplace, albeit as a starter, not as the main material to burn. I’ve sometimes used small evergreen branches as kindling as well. We don’t build many fires, and when we’ve had the chimney cleaned there’s been zero buildup to take care of. It may be a question of scale.