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THE GOODS : A Burning Desire : With the weather outside so frightful, a fire would be delightful. But if you don't get into the woods, you can't generate any heat.


First of all, it's OK to store it outdoors. You can stack it off the ground on planks or pallets and drape a tarp over the top during the rainy season, but if the wood has been properly seasoned, you need not worry if it gets wet, says Pat Corner.

"If it's seasoned right, there won't be a problem," he says. "You might have to leave the gas on a few extra minutes, but it'll burn just fine.

Now the task at hand is to plop some on the fireplace grate and let it roar.

Not so fast.

"The biggest complaint I get is a customer calling to say, 'The wood you just sold me won't burn,' " says Corner. "My response is always, 'You can't burn one log.' And they always say, 'How did you know?' "

Corner offers a socio-geographic observation to explain the shortcomings of his fire-challenged clientele: "You don't have the ol' country boy around here. We're city folk."

Building a better fire is made infinitely easier if your fireplace is equipped with a gas lighter. Place two logs on the bottom. A third should sit diagonally across the top, which allows for better air circulation. Turn the gas on medium flow. Light the gas and allow the logs to catch fire until they burn easily without the aid of the gas flame.

Things get a bit trickier without the convenience of gas. Build a small bed of kindling, mixing in a small amount of paper. The kindling should be engulfed in flames before you add the larger logs.

Once started, you can keep the fire stoked to your heart's content. When the original three logs are burning without the aid of gas, toss a fourth on top. As the fire begins to burn down, refuel with another log or two as desired.

"And once in a while if for some reason the fire doesn't want to go good--that's when your poker comes in. Mix it up a bit to get some air in there. Air is the factor for a good fire," Corner says.

One more thing you need to know: That cozy fire can endanger you if you don't diligently observe basic safety precautions.

Never attempt to repair cracked masonry or loosened joints in a metal flue. Leave it for the pros. An ill-repaired chimney can allow carbon monoxide to seep into the home instead of being released, says Capt. Steve Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Have your chimney inspected annually by a professional and cleaned if necessary. This is especially important for Southern Californians because of repeated earthquake activity, Valenzuela says.

A chimney will need to be swept clean of creosote, a residual tar-like substance, about every three years under average use, says Julie Nelson of Fiddler on the Roof, a chimney-cleaning chain based in Canoga Park. Using the fireplace two or three times a week during the winter is considered average, she says. The cost of cleaning: $70 to $80.

Chimney sweeps use a wire brush attached to a long, flexible pole to scour the inner walls of the flue. Buildup as little as a quarter-inch thick can be hazardous.

"It can explode like a fireball," Nelson says. "It's more heat than the chimney is designed to withstand." The intense heat can cause fire to spread to surrounding areas.

As a precaution against the flight of errant sparks, all chimneys should be outfitted with a spark arrester--a four-sided, cage-like metal-mesh screen that sits atop the chimney. And always keep the glass doors or screen to the fireplace shut tight to keep flying sparks inside.


A Burning Desire


* Hardwood

* Slow burning

* High heat levels

* Average price per cord: $350 and up



* Hardwood

* Slow burning

* High heat levels

* Average price per cord: $265-$300



* Hardwood

* Medium burning

* Not as hot as eucalyptus or oak

* Average price per cord: $280-$310



* Softwood

* Fast burning

* Intense heat levels for short periods of time

* Average price per cord: $225-$300

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