Nothing quite fits the bill as a roaring fire on a cold winter night or a blazing yule log during the holidays. However, it's important to keep in mind some key safety tips in mind. Of course, keep flammable items away from the fire and the chimney (tree branches, bird nests) as well as always use a fireplace screen - metal mesh - when buring a fire. But the #1 safety tip is to have your fireplace inspected and cleaned EVERY year. Be sure to check for cracked mortar or fire bricks and have them tuck pointed and repaired as needed. Also, have a new fireplace inspected BEFORE you ever use it. When we did our house, I looked before starting a fire only to discover that some of the mortar and cracked and loosened due to shrinkage between the fire brick and facing brick. Even more alarming were two large gaps between the fire and facing brick on the inside front (hard to see mind you, but dangerous, none the less). Since the mason never returned my calls to fix these problems, I had a chimney sweep and repair company take care of it. Lesson learned: don't assume a new fireplace is ready for a fire until it's inspected first!
Here are some more safety tips by the Duraflame, makers of artificial logs. The article provides some good advice, although it makes some sales pitches for the desirability of their product. I prefer real wood myself.