Samuel J. Tanner 4 minute read

Starting Fires

I've got a pretty serious stove in my basement. The previous owners of my home, I think, used this contraption to supplement their heating in the winter. They burned coal. God bless them.

I fired the stove up twice this winter. With wood. I may be living in Pennsylvania, but I'm not really a coal guy. The stove is powerful, and the wood burns with great ferocity. My basement becomes a sauna. It is delightful on a cold, winter night. The basement is finished. There's a living room, an office, and a bathroom. It's downright cozy down there, especially with a fire burning. Still, there's a problem with the stove. When I open the stove to add more wood, smoke comes back into the house. Not lots of smoke. But enough. The stove isn't drafting as a stove should draft. Smoke should go out, I'm told, not it. Okay.

I had professionals come over to look at my stove a few weeks ago. I learned some things. The stove is about thirty years old. It's designed for coal, but can also be used for burning wood. The previous owners added a new chimney in 2014.

"Why isn't the stove drafting properly?" I asked the glorified chimney sweep. (He even had soot on his cheeks!)

He had three answers. First, the stove is old. Any remodeling in the home may have effected the original drafting process. Secondly, the chimney that is connected to the stove is 6 inches in diameter, and feeds into an opening that is eight. This is probably creating my problem. Finally, the chimney is external. It gets cold. So he suggested I prepare the chimney by burning a candle in the stove before starting a fire.

"Is it safe for me to burn wood?" I asked him.

"Of course. This is a great stove."


I stopped at Lowe's last weekend. I picked up a small bundle of wood, a carbon monoxide detector, and a large candle. I planned to start a fire. Making fire feels very human, and I was eager to burn some wood.

I plugged my new CO2 detecter in near the stove. I lit the candle, placed it in the stove, and let my chimney prepare itself for some action.

I packed the stove full as Katie started dinner. I lit the wood as Katie put the boys into their pajamas. All of us went downstairs, and played Wii as the fire starting roaring. And roar it did. Soon, the basement was comfortably warm, and the heat was drifting to the rest of the house. Success.

Katie took the boys upstairs to put them to bed. I started playing MLB Power pros on my Nintendo Wii. This is great baseball game, by the way. The Show for PS4 could learn some lessons. RBI Baseball for Xbox should certainly study the design. I hadn't played the game in years. I was excited to fire it up.

I was playing MLB Power pros when I heard a short beeping sound. I looked around. I heard it again. Was my carbon monoxide detector going off? What else could it be?

My heart sank.

I closed the valve that allows air into the stove to feed the fire. I opened all of the windows and doors downstairs. I went upstairs. The beeping continued. I went downstairs to check the fire. It had mostly burned out, and my basement was freezing again. But the beeping continued. I unplugged the CO2 detector, and brought it upstairs. I placed it at the top of the stairs to see if any CO2 was escaping the basement. Surpisingly, the beeping from downstairs continued. I was confused. I went downstairs. The beeping was coming from my smoke detector. Apparently, the batteries were low.

The batteries on my fire alarm were low 40 minutes after placeing a new CO2 detector near my stove, and starting a fire? What are the chances? Sam Tanner. The universe enjoys messing with me, I guess.

I replaced the batteries in my smoke detector. I closed the window, stoked the fire, and plugged the CO2 detector back in. My carbon monoxide detector was silent.

The fire began to roar again. Katie and I played card games downstairs as our boys slept. Skip-Bo. Uno. Phase Ten. We enjoyed the warmth of our familial hearth.

I don't think I'll ever become a fire guy. But I suppose I will always expect some cosmic absurdity from the universe. The smoke alarm batteries? C'mon, now.