To Burn or Not To Burn

Spring time has arrived in sunny South Africa and this means it’s time to braai! South Africans love to enjoy the beautiful weather and environment we are blessed with by spending time outside with friends and family around the fire.

Contrary to what you might think, not all wood should be used in a fireplace or a braai. There are some risk factors to consider when choosing your fire wood to ensure that you, your friends and your family stay safe and healthy while enjoying the great outdoors.


Never use the following:


  • Green Wood

When a tree is cut down, the wood needs to be left out to dry, or season, for an extended period of time (more than 9 months is best). A newly felled tree will still have tree sap and water stored within its branches.

Freshly cut fire wood is very difficult to set alight, it produces less heat and a lot more smoke. The wood will also bubble and pop as it burns away the moisture in the wood.

Chimney fires may be caused by burning the wet wood of certain species of tree. The smoke could contain a high concentration of creosote, which is a flammable substance that collects in chimneys as the smoke escapes. Evergreen trees give off more creosotes than most.

Green Wood will have firmly attached bark that is still sticky with sap. Seasoned wood will weigh less and will make a cracking sound if you hit it with another piece of wood.


  • Non-local Wood

If you live or are visiting an area which is affected by an invasive species, you should take care not to move the wood outside of this area.

The spread of invasive insects and diseases is mainly caused by firewood that travels outside of the affected area. New outbreaks almost always start in and around camp sites or public braai areas where firewood is often used.


  • Soft Wood

Soft wood like Pine, Fir or Cypress are soft woods that burn fast, does not form many coals and causes a lot of smoke and soot. If you are using a fireplace or chimney, you may want to avoid wood that is prone to producing soot.

You can use seasoned soft wood for outdoor fires, but cooking using soft wood may become difficult as the wood does not form many coals.



  • Driftwood

Salt Water Drift wood becomes saturated with salt, and burning this can release harmful chemicals into the air. Salt contains Chlorine which can burn away mucus membranes in a condensed gaseous form. The smoke from driftwood can also be corrosive that can damage your fireplace or braai.


  • Poisonous Wood

Any wood that has the word ‘poison’ in its name should never be burned as it will release an irritant called Urushiol into the smoke. This will cause major respiratory problems and can be life threatening in some cases.


  • Oleander or Ceylon Rose (Selonsroos)

Oleander is an invasive species in the South African eco-system, so you may think it will help our eco system if you burn these plants, but every part of the Oleander shrub or tree is extremely poisonous. The sap also irritates the skin. Burning any part of this tree will release carcinogens into the air which is harmful to breathe in. The wood should never be placed near food either.


  • Treated, painted or pressure treated wood

Even though Brands Tree Felling does not deal with or produce this type of wood, we think it is important to mention.

Burning wood that has been treated, painted or pressure treated will release harmful chemicals into the air. This can lead to major health problems for the people around your fire, and for people eating the food prepared on this fire.

Pressure Treated Wood can be identified by its greenish or reddish hue and the perforations on the surface.

Plywood is also not suitable for burning as burning the glue used in the manufacturing process releases harmful chemicals into the air.

Milled Lumber may be treated with polyethylene glycol to make it dry faster.


  • Big Pieces of Wood

If the firewood is too big to fit into your fireplace or braai, it is not suitable. Large pieces of wood can fall out and set alight the surrounding areas.


  • Endangered Species

Needless to say, burning wood from an endangered species would be a tragedy.

For the comprehensive list of the protect tree species.