We didn’t all grow up with an open fire or log burner in our houses, so may not of learnt the best way to lay and light a fire in a chalet. ChaletAgent helps out.

Smoke is pouring back into the room, what should I do?

If smoke is pouring back into the room, then the damper may be closed. Before lighting a fire check the damper is open.

Another reason smoke may come into the room is that it is really cold outside. The cold air travels down the chimney because cold air is heavier than warm air.

The fire won’t light when the air flow is the wrong direction

To get a fire going the air needs to travel UP the chimney. You can check the air flow (or draft) using a match; just light it, inside the wood burner, near the opening of the flue. You can notice which direction the air flows by the appearance of the flame.

If the air flow is coming down the chimney you need to change the direction of that air flow. Open the doors about 20 minutes before you intend to light the fire; this can help to change the direction of the air flow. Or you can use a starter block or wax log. These will start the draft going upwards.

What to use in your fire

Fire Lighters in French: Cubes Allume-FeuPaper, tinder and kindling will make the base of your fire. Smaller things burn easily and so will help the initial flames.

Collect used paper to keep next to your fire, newspaper is great but we don’t get a newspaper any more!

Tinder is not just a name for a popular dating app, it actually describes the small twigs, moss and other burnables that we use to ‘start a fire’.

Kindling is the collective name for small pieces of wood, which you can chop yourself from bigger logs or you can buy from a supermarket in both France and England. We get ours from SuperU.

We also buy organic fire lighters, that are non toxic, pictured above. The ones we buy are by FlamUp and in French are called “Cubes Allume-Feu”.

How to lay a fire

  • Split the newspaper into pages and, depending on the size of your fire grate, crumple about 6 pieces. Put them on the grate, as a bed.
  • Spread the rest of your tinder on top of the paper.
  • Bury two fire lighters in the tinder, making sure they are at the front of the fire and that you can see them.
  • Laying a Fire - Kindling set in a grid formationNow stack kindling on top of your tinder, in a grid formation. This lets air between the kindling which will fuel the fire, but also means the flames can pass from piece to piece. My example is on the right, however I had no tinder. The point is your medium size logs should be able to rest on top.
    Stack your kindling horizontally, so it lays flat.
  • Now stack a couple of larger logs on top of your kindling. Opt for smaller logs because large ones don’t catch fire as easily. If you can, leave an opening at the front of the fire, so that the heat is directed out.
  • Stack the wood at most to two-thirds of the height of the fireplace, so it does not go out of control.

How to light your fire

Using a match, light the fire lighters first. The paper, tinder and kindling will light from them. The smoke should be going up the chimney. Watch your fire for about half an hour, until it is properly lit. Some common problems are:

  • Smoke turns black: fire is not getting enough oxygen. Carefully lift the logs to allow some oxygen underneath.
  • Smoke is grey: you may have wet logs or too MUCH oxygen. On a wood burner you can close the vent.

Once the fire is going you can carefully put a bigger log onto it. These will burn a longer time, so you won’t have to tend to it so often. 

Stir the wood down at least half an hour before you want to leave the chalet or go to bed. Break the materials of the fire up with a poker and try to spread it out as much as you can. The more it is spread out, the quicker it will burn and go out. Closes the damper or vent to avoid loosing heating from the room.