As winter nears, wood burning stoves and fireplaces are becoming a hot item, helping to bring warmth and cheer into homes and, in many cases, helping to cut energy bills, says Lt. Byron Litster, fire marshal for the South Davis Fire Department.

"More and more people are buying wood stoves for their living rooms and family rooms and many people building new homes are having fireplaces installed in them. If built and installed correctly, wood stoves and fireplaces are not only beautiful, but functional and add value to homes."Fire can be a good friend, but it can also cause a great deal of damage and it can kill if not handled properly, he said.

Several rules that should be observed when installing and operating stoves and fireplaces to ensure safety, he cautioned.

"Make sure the stove or fireplace has been installed correctly. Many do-it-yourselfers are able to install a stove in a room or in a fireplace without professional help. They need to make sure, however, that the stove is a safe distance from combustible materials and a proper flue or chimney is used and installed correctly.

"Improperly installed stoves or faulty fireplaces can caused fires to break out in ceilings and walls."

He advises homeowners to have their stoves and fireplaces inspected and, if necessary, cleaned. "Cracks in chimneys and improperly connected stove pipes can spell danger. Residue from previous fires can build up in the flue and ignite, causing fires.

"Make sure the grate, damper and other parts of a stove or chimney are in the correct arrangement before lighting a fire to avoid filling your home with smoke. Make sure dangerous gases that are given off by burning are vented out of the home.

"Use only the fuel intended for the stove or fireplace you have. Coal should not be used in a stove that has been built and designed to burn only wood."

He said ashes should be disposed of properly. "Pouring ashes from a stove or fireplace into a cardboard or wooden box can be disastrous if there are hot coals remaining, sometimes hidden, in the ashes."

Even ashes that seem cool to the touch can still retain heat for some time and can cause a fire if not disposed of properly, he said.