For warmth and coziness, nothing quite matches the comfort of lounging beside a crackling fire. Before you touch match to kindling, though, take care to ready your fireplace for another season of safe enjoyment. In the firebox itself, look for signs of deteriorated brickwork. Check the damper too—it should open and close with ease. Last but not least, using a powerful flashlight, inspect the flue for creosote. If this gummy, foul-smelling by-product of combustion has built up beyond a paper-thin layer, schedule a cleaning with a reputable chimney service right away. Why? Creosote kills. In fact, the highly flammable substance contributes to as many as a quarter of all house fires in the United States.