If I were just a bit more handy, I might get someone killed.

Now that we're halfway through our third winter in our condo, my wife and I decided to do something about the faulty fireplace. We used to have big, semi-dangerous fires at our last house, which we kind of miss (though I'm sure the fire department doesn't).

When we moved into the condo, our kind landlord explained that the fireplace didn't work, but said we could get it fixed and take it off the rent. Meanwhile, they'd tidied up the fireplace space with logs, pine cones and candles. Maybe it was too pretty to touch -- I don't know. But we didn't do anything about it until we -- OK, my wife -- decided it was time to act.

Michelle Kumata/KRT
Michelle Kumata/KRT ( Michelle Kumata )

A nice man came out, examined the situation and announced that the flue was off its brackets or some such thing. He fixed it, cleaned it, then gave me a lesson on how to properly operate my fireplace.

No-brainer, right?

Come on. It's a fireplace. I'm a man. I used to chop my own wood -- with a real ax and everything. I've even reached into the flames once to open a flue after nearly suffocating my previous wife with a living room full of carbon dioxide (it was accidental, I'll swear it in any court of law).

So I was pretty excited the next day, when I bought a clean-burning log to surprise my wife with a fire that night. I pulled open the flue, got my safe flame-lighting thingie out, started the gas, and got the fire going.


Advertisement

This was going to be awesome. My wife was going to feel mighty good about this -- and about me. I imagined that once the kids were asleep, the fire would be like pumping Barry White music into the house. Who says it's cold during winter?

A voice interrupted my sweet dream. "Uh, honey -- there's smoke coming out of the fireplace."

"Well, of course there is, darling. It's a fire. It goes right up the chimney."

"Uh, no. It's filling up the living room."

Sure enough, she was right. No problem, I figured. I just miscalculated how much chain the flue requires to open fully. I adjusted it.

More smoke.

OK, maybe I got it backward. Maybe the chain goes up to open the flue.

Open-and-shut case

More smoke. My wife started collecting jackets for the kids.

OK, I was right the first time. Maybe I need to open a window and cause one of those downdraft deals the fireplace guy told me about.

More smoke. My wife ushered the kids outside in the 35-degree cold.

"Maybe you ought to put the fire out now," she said, though a thick haze. I could barely see her. "You might want to get some water."

"Good idea," I said, running to fill a pitcher of water. I doused the flames which, of course, made more smoke. "I'll just put this out and get to the bottom of things tomorrow."

After much fanning and window-opening, the house was again safe for air-breathing mammals in about a half-hour. And I did get to the bottom of it: Our old flue had to be set just right, or it wouldn't open. I would have seen that if I didn't have visions of Barry White dancing in my head.

But on the bright side, at least no one called the fire department. This time.

Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com, at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/insertfoot.