It hasn't cold enough outside for many of you to start using your fireplace. But before you start that next warm cherry red fire in your fireplace, have you pulled the safety checks that you need to ensure your fireplace operates safely?
The first thing you need to do is to inspect the chimney. Make sure there aren't any obstructions like bird nests and bats that have taken up residence in the chimney. Try placing one of those screens over the flue so unwanted animals won't get into the chimney itself. I remember when a raccoon took up residence on top of our fireplace insert inside, and boy, was that an experience getting that critter out.
The next thing to clear out of your chimney is the creosote that may have built up from last year, especially if you didn't clean the chimney out last year. Try using a chimney brush with attachments to get down to the insert or fire box. Just make sure you open the damper wide so the creosote you break lose falls where you can remove it rather than lodging behind that damper, which can spell disaster if it all catches on fire. Remember, there are commercial chimney sweeps out there -- it could keep you from falling off the roof doing it yourself.
Finally, have a plan in case you get a chimney fire or have other problems associated with your fireplace. You can buy emergency kits especially made for fireplace use. Check them out.