When beginning a discussion of what not to burn when making a fire it makes sense to start with what we actually should be burning, and then discuss the long list of things which should never be put in the fire. Quite simply the only materials we should be burning in our fireplaces or camp fires is dry, untreated wood, along with dried out old newspapers (which is a wood by-product) for kindling.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Burning anything else in our fires can be hazardous to our health. There is a pretty long list of items that may seem like they would be alright to burn but in fact are not. Cardboard, driftwood, and plywood fall into this category. They may seem safe to burn, they will generate heat and not explode, but they may release toxic chemicals in the process.
Both cardboard and plywood are treated with man-made chemicals (glues and stains) that when burned release toxic gases into the atmosphere. Cardboard is a manufactured product that does not occur in nature. Although the inks and waxes that go into cardboard may be organic and harmless, other times they may not be. The chemicals released by some cardboard products are similar to those that some drug addicts "huff" out of paper bags to get a buzz. These chemicals are known to cause serious damage to the brain and respiratory tracts.
So, obviously cardboard is hazardous to burn, the same goes for plywood which has also been treated with chemicals that are harmful when breathed in. Anything that has been manufactured and treated is potentially harmful when burned. Often times when people die from an exposure to an accidental fire it's not from the fire itself but from the smoke which contains all kinds of manmade, inorganic chemicals. Though many of these materials manufactured today are much safer, many of them still contain hazardous toxins.
Why not burn driftwood? Although it is untreated and probably safe in a campfire, never burn driftwood in a fireplace. T he real danger lies in the fact that burning driftwood creates a large buildup of creosote in our chimneys, which is a major cause of accidents and fires. Creosote is a flammable material that builds up in chimneys over time, but burning driftwood can accelerate the buildup, creating the potential for a chimney fire.
Here are some other things which some folks might think are fine to burn but truly aren't
-- pressure treated lumber, engineered wood, gypsum board, press board, and rail road ties – all of these wood products have been treated at some point in their existence making them potentially dangerous with regard to producing noxious fumes.
More obvious things that should not be burned in our fires would be plastics, trash, and yard waste, in fact burning these either outdoors or indoors is often illegal according to local statutes. Trash should go into the trash not into our fires.
Lastly, never substitute magazines for newspaper when creating tinder (fast burning material to start a fire), the ink and glue contained within is dangerous and present in good quantity. Use your good sense and go over what not to burn when making a fire in your mind to be sure that you're not making any of these mistakes. Your health and the health of your family depends on it.
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