All on Fire
These early December days – grey cold damp and miserable – those sorts of days when you’d love to come home to a real fire, roaring away in the hearth. Ah, the sheer joy of curling up in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea or a good whisky and warming yourself on the dancing flames. It’s at times like this I’d like a dog, so it could bring me my pipe and slippers.
Sure, fires are great as long as you are not the poor bastard who has to chop and fetch in the wood, tend the fire and then clear out the hearth the next morning when the embers have finally died and the ashes are cool enough to handle.
Good news for fire haters
For all fire haters, the following might come as good news. From January 1st 2015, wood burning fires will be banned in the centre of Paris – Open hearth fires, wood burning stoves, inset stoves – it’s time to dowse the flames and go for one of those modern imitation fires with real imitation flames.
According to the Parisian powers-that-be, wood burning fires are responsible for 23% of air pollution in the capital, almost as bad as pollution from vehicles.
The ban goes further though. In 435 districts around the capital, open-hearth fires will be banned from January 1st onwards. For fans of real fires, they will have to use a wood burning stove or a hearth inset. No more warming yourself on naked roaring flames.
I find the wood pollution statistics all the more amazing because I didn’t think that anyone in the centre of Paris still used their hearths – in most mid-nineteenth century apartment blocks, many apartments have still retained their original open hearth fires, though they are merely period features, now used for decorative purposes. I suppose that stove- type wood burning fires have become popular over the past few years, but because of their size and need for a wide chimney, such stoves are just not feasible for your average downtown Paris apartment, where chimneys are narrow, shared affairs. I can only think that if wood fires are causing such a stink, it is only because people are burning bad wood.
Employment prospects for chimney sweeps
Apart from new-build houses, many French dwellings have some kind of open fireplace. There are still hundreds of thousands of households where the home fires burn in winter. This is a country where chimney sweep is still a serious employment option; especially with the boom in stove and inset sales over the past few years. Indeed over the past few years, the trend has been to encourage the installation of wood- burning stoves as a serious ecological heating option. Wood is a renewable energy source. Wood is also expensive though, and you need a lot of it to keep you going through the winter. Those French households where the home fires burn long into dark winter nights, normally get their wood delivered around mid to late September. Of course there are those who don’t always burn proper wood, but gleaned, harvested, beach combed or purloined alternatives.
Yep, there’s a lot of people out there getting their wood from alternative sources – wooden fruit and veg crates or cargo palettes gleaned from dumpsters or markets. Scrap wood from building sites or derelict buildings – free wood, but dangerous wood because al this stuff has been treated with chemicals. So let’s take the example of someone who gleans a few dead cargo palettes from the woodpile at his local railway marshalling yard or someone who gets a few palettes from his local market. All these palettes have been designed to transport cargo through all weathers. They have been treated with some pretty nasty chemicals to prolong their commercial lives. Burn then in a closed stove and at best you’ll be sending a lot of noxious fumes heavenwards. Burn them in an open hearth and you’ll be breathing in a heady combination of life shortening chemical substances.
So, all fires are banned in Paris and open hearth fires 435 surrounding districts.This might not mean a lot to other city dwellers who live in those cities where fires have been a thing of the past for a good many years. In France though, we still have a firm tradition of fires at home. As I write (and open the window to pop my head outside) the air is thick with the sweet smell of wood-smoke. If the ban works in Paris and its surrounding areas, with speculation that it could go national in the near future.
Spare a thought for the potters
All this makes me wonder exactly what will happen in one of our local villages – La Borne – a village of some 400 or so souls with a very large potter’s colony – local potter’s and ceramists make their creations in vast wood-fired furnaces that burn for days and can reach temperatures measured in the hundreds- of degrees Celsius. Will a national wood burning ban put pay to this age old art ? Professional potters will tell you that the results achieved in a gas-fired furnace are not as good as those achieved in a vast, brick built wood burning furnace.
So, we will still have our fires and in future years on future cold, damp, grey December days, I will trundle home in my electric car. I will switch on my imitation electronic fire. My robot dog will bring me my electronic pipe and disposable slippers, and I will nestle up in my plastic chair in front of dancing ersatz flames to enjoy my alcohol-free whisky or perhaps read a book on my tablet. Oh Lord ! Just where are we all headed?