So you have an open fireplace – you can burn whatever you like, right? Wrong! Some things just should never be lit, including all those print catalogues that come in the local rag as the inks are dangerous. Magazines also should not be put in the fire. Avoid burning treated wood as many have arsenic in them and any that have been oiled can also give off black clouds of fumey smoke.

Regardless, you must get your chimney cleaned annually, and also you should have a chimney flue that filters the smoke to trap the chemical residues instead of gushing them into the atmosphere.

Canberra has always had a massive problem with smokey mists in the autumn and have very strict laws on burning off and interior fireplaces, flues, wood used and so on. If your fireplace is an old one, you need to have it checked by a really well-qualified person for any pollutants. Our consultant has always been a man called Kenneth Innes-Irons, a GURU of fireplaces in the Melbourne area. Look him up in the Yellow Pages or on line. He is famous!

Where can you get cheap wood for burning?

For many years, you were able to get a permit to forage for fallen forest timber in Victoria (and other states). This policy was good in keeping the forests safe from bushfires and there were guidelines on how to make your wood-gathering environmentally savvy. On our country block, we never chop down trees. Nature ensures that a supply of branches will fall well in time for winter. Gathering wood is one of the greatest pleasures and you have the enjoyment of the smells of the freshly cut timber, the clear air of nature and the crushed eucalyptus leaves.

It is true that firewood ‘warms you twice’: once when you chop it and once when you burn it. It is excellent aerobic exercise and one of those things that kept previous generations healthy and trim.

But you may be interested in the new wood-gathering strategy and the information below is direct from the Department of Sustainability:

Victoria’s Firewood Strategy for Public Land will ensure the sustainable supply of firewood from public land for households in regional Victoria. The changes will be phased in from autumn 2011, with the new system fully in place for the autumn 2012 firewood collection season.

The firewood strategy:

  • creates opportunities for community firewood suppliers to supply firewood from State forest to Victorian communities
  • sets out a simple system for making firewood on public land available to Victorian households.
  • There will be two seasons for firewood collection, an autumn and a spring season and permits will be sold for periods of 2 days, 1 week, 1 month and 3 months.
  • To ensure a sustainable supply of firewood from State forest into the future, only a fixed number of designated firewood collection areas will be opened each season. As a priority, these areas will be located to utilise the by-products of other activities conducted in State forests.
  • For self-collectors, it will be easier to buy a firewood permit from the internet, a DSE office, mail or telephone. Firewood agents may be retained in remote areas.
  • The permission of the road management authority, either VicRoads or local government, is all that is needed for the collection of firewood from roadsides.
  • The DSE will manage community firewood suppliers across Victoria who will collect firewood in State forest and sell directly to members of the public. This will ensure a consistent system throughout Victoria. Commercial firewood cutters in eastern Victoria will have the same opportunities to cut and collect firewood in State forest as those in western Victoria. This will create employment opportunities and improve firewood supply in eastern Victoria.

Get in touch with your local branch (pardon the pun) of DSE to purchase a gathering licence and for the information about collection areas nearest to you.

Just remember that some fallen logs are habitats and should be left alone. You are not trying to convert the forests into suburban front yards and some scrubby areas are preferred as living spaces for lizards, wombats and so on!

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