By David X. Manners. A fire burning on the hearth appeals to our deepest instincts. Through the years it has meant security and warmth. It shows us an endlessly varying play of light and shadow. But it is also a hazard. Sparks shoot out from it and can do serious damage, especially when no one is around to snuff them out. A firescreen thus is a necessity.
Screens are a modern invention. Before the advent of central heating, they were seldom used. One hundred years ago, the only place you would find one was in the nursery, latched to the mantel on either side to keep children out of the fire. Where a fireplace was depended on for heat and in constant use all day long, a screen would have been looked upon as heat-robber and a perpetual nuisance. Anyway, what was the real need for it? In those days the fuel was almost certain to be long-burning, well-seasoned hardwood, with sparks at a minimum.
What they did use was a fender-a law, curving metal strip in front of the fire. Often there was no front hearth, and such protection was essential to keep a sudden down-draft from blowing glowing embers out on the wood floor. Today, fenders are almost purely decorative.
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