In New Orleans, autumn is one of the most eagerly anticipated times of the year: there's Saints football, good hair days (thanks to the absence of frizz-inducing humidity) and a euphorically crisp feeling to the air. Yet another perk is fall's invitation to take a load off with family and friends in front of a crackling fireplace.

  A slew of ventless fire products makes this idyllic scene an option even for apartment dwellers or homeowners with old, nonfunctional chimneys. With designs ranging from simple burners that can be set in a hearth to a sculptural designer fire pit made from tubular stainless steel, they require no gas lines or venting and are lit with denatured alcohol (also known as bioethanol), a renewable, clean-burning fuel made from products like sugar, potatoes, beetroot and corn.

  "(Ventless fire products) give the feeling of a proper, robust fire," says Nomita Joshi-Gupta, co-owner of Spruce Eco-Studio (2043 Magazine St., 265-0946;, which stocks EcoSmartFire products.

  In addition to visually enhancing a setting, the use of ventless fire products can trim electric bills. "I have friends with ventless fireplaces that don't even use their heater until it is 30 or 40 degrees outside," says Rebecca Penton, director of operations at BrasaFire (307 Tchoupitoulas St., 596-6960; Most BrasaFire burners consume between five and 10 ounces of alcohol per hour and raise the temperature of a room seven to 12 degrees. Denatured alcohol costs four to six dollars per quart and can be purchased in most hardware stores. To start the fires, simply pour the fuel into the fire feature's opening and light it, Joshi-Gupta says.

  With the simplicity of operation and flexibility of design options they afford, ventless fire products allow creative homeowners to think outside the fireplace when decorating.

  "One client used an EcoSmartFire burner to create a fire within her own stone mantle, and another employed one to develop a double-sided fireplace within the wall separating her den and living room," Joshi-Gupta says. "There is a breadth of customizable options available with the use of this product."

  EcoSmartFire prices range from $895 to $9,000, says Spruce Eco-Studio co-owner Cheryl Nix Murphy. BrasaFire offers several nontraditional fireplace makes and models in different sizes and shapes. Fire lamps are ideal for tables, entryways and hallways, and the basic insert can be used for do-it-yourself designing. BrasaFire products range in price from $175 for a tabletop fire lamp to the $785 Hudson model and are available at BrasaFire or at Modern Market (3138 Magazine St., Suite C, 896-2206;

  Unlike traditional fires, ventless fireplaces can be turned off and restarted later, which comes in handy if a homeowner needs to leave unexpectedly, as it's never a good idea to leave a fire unattended. The design of the fireplaces prevents spilled fluid from becoming a hazard. "BrasaFire burners have an absorbent filter that keeps them from dripping or spilling," Penton says. "If one is knocked over, nothing will happen."