When the free-standing outdoor fireplaces known as chimineas first came into vogue, their owners often set them up and fired them up. They came without instructions and soon became the bane of local firefighters as it was clear a bit of fire-safety common sense should have been included with the products. The first tip for the would-be chiminea owner is to check with his local fire brigade to make sure the units are even allowed in his community. From there, a few safety tips are all he needs to enjoy his chiminea for years to come.
Find a permanent location for the unit. While the portable size of chimineas makes them movable, once placed they are generally there for good. Place the chiminea on a level, fireproof material, such as rock, flagstone, fire rock, or concrete. Assemble it (units often consist of a belly and a pipe, in addition to a stand) and test for sturdiness. If it is knocked over while ignited, the results can be catastrophic. Be certain that its surroundings are a safe distance from buildings, brush and overhanging branches. The venting reaches high into the air and sparks and rising hot smoke can ignite area trees. Never put the unit in an enclosed area.
Insulate the bowl of the chiminea with pea stone or sand, leaving a gap of about 3 inches between the stone and the lip of the opening. Children's play sand works well and is readily available at toy stores and hardware stores. Place a grate or bricks on top of the stone. This ensures elevation of the wood and the fire and keeps the smoke rising through the flue and not out the mouth of the unit.
Use a series (four to five) of small blazes to begin the seasoning process necessary, in particular, for clay chimineas. Start the fire with kindling and paper, adding twigs and larger wood as the fire builds. Never use chemicals or lighter fluid and avoid dousing the fire with water. Let it burn out under a watchful eye. Once the chimnea is properly seasoned, larger fires can be built. Always follow fire safety rules such as keeping children away from the unit, never leaving it unattended and having water at-the-ready for sparking embers.
Clean out the ashes periodically as regular maintenance. Additionally, coating the outside of a cast iron chiminea with cooking oil and allowing it to "cook" on will season the stove much as Japanese chefs season their woks. The cast iron chimineas can also be painted with black grill paint, while clay chimineas can be sealed with specifically designed clay paints once a year. Finally, although in its outdoor existence a chiminea will suffer the vagaries of the weather, it should not be left with puddles in its belly--dry it out as necessary. Chimineas can be covered with a properly fitting chiminea cover when not in use. Be sure the unit is completely cold before placing anything on or near it.