Backyard fire pits can be fun any time of year and they are the most requested feature for landscaping. It can be a good way of getting family and friends outside to share stories, talk, make s’mores, and spend time together. Yet, some wonder about their safety.
Fire pits can be safe if installed and maintained properly. That includes putting them in a safe, open area where they can’t catch anything on fire, placing seating at a proper distance, and burning only seasoned wood. It also means keeping a watchful eye on the pit and making sure children don’t get too close.
Read further to find out about fire pits and how to keep them burning safely.
What Kind of Firepit Should I Get?
There are two primary kinds of fire pits and a lot of variety within each type. Each has specific safety issues. There are portable and fixed firepits. Portable firepits are those you can move around and they can be convenient for changing locations around your yard, taking where you are gathering, or camping.
Fixed fire pits are those you build into your backyard landscape as a permanent structure.
A portable pit can be a little flimsy. Fixed pits must be built correctly. It’s best to have a metal bottom or bowl in any pit you choose. Copper, steel, or cast iron is preferred. Fixed pits need to be made of something that won’t split apart under heat, like a brick or a stone.
The type of firepit you choose depends on your ultimate goals. Are you going to be going elsewhere for gatherings or doing most of the entertaining?
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Gas vs. Wood
Once you are past the first decision, the second to make is whether you want to go with a natural gas or propane gas pit, which is easier and quicker to light, versus a wood pit.
Both have some safety concerns. Natural gas involves a gas line and propane involves a tank that should be kept in a safe area when not in use. Burning wood can crackle, sending embers flying.
Style and Safety
Firepits come in several styles like fire bowls, fire tables, and freestanding chimineas that look like a chimney. While you may be most concerned with style, you need to also consider safety.
The primary safety issue is keeping fires under control and people from getting too close. Fire bowls and fire tables are great for gathering but may be more accessible to children. Chimineas may be harder to clean.
Fire tables typically are what you use if you want places to put food and drinks. They come in propane and natural gas. Some can be used in enclosed areas, but you always need to check the safety guidelines before purchasing. That brings up the first safety rule.
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Safety Rules for Fire Pits
You want to keep everyone safe while gathering around a warm fire. Some basic rules will ensure your fire pit stays safe.
You never want a firepit when it’s under an overhang, in an enclosed space, or under trees. It may sound cool to have it in a wooded area of your yard, but that is highly dangerous. Keep the area around your fire pit free of waste and anything flammable.
A portable fire pit should be set on top of something that is fire-resistant rather than grass or on a wood deck. The best options are metal, a concrete patio, bricks, or pavers.
Make Sure It’s Built Well
A firepit needs to be sturdy and made of materials that won’t crack or catch fire. A permanent fire pit should be high enough so small children can’t reach over it.
Every fire pit needs a fire screen to keep embers from flying away. Screens come for all sizes and styles of fire pits, even fire bowls.
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Check the Wind
Wind can be disastrous for those trying to get wood ablaze in a fire pit. Even beyond making it hard to keep fires lit, wind can blow flames elsewhere and that means something can catch fire.
Burn Seasoned Wood
The only thing you should burn in a fire pit is seasoned wood. It can be limbs gathered after a storm in your yard or branches you trim after it’s been sitting for about half a year. Cedar, mesquite, hickory, pecan, and fruit-tree woods are all good items to burn in a fire pit.
Never burn leftover construction lumber or other items to just get rid of them. You shouldn’t burn pressure-treated wood, plywood, or pressure-treated pallets. They all have toxic chemicals that produce hazardous fumes when burned.
Make sure all chairs are far enough away from the firepit to avoid anyone getting burned. Don’t wear loose clothing and keep your hair tied back when roasting food or moving fire logs around.
Never walk away to let a fire burn out. Extinguish fire by spreading the ashes over a larger surface area in the pit and letting them cool down. Gently pour a small container of water over the ashes. Watch it for a bit because fires can flare up again.
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Everyone with a fire pit needs to be ready to put out an escaped flame. Keep a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket nearby.
How far should a fire pit be from a house?
A fire pit should be at least 10 feet from any structure. There could also be city and county ordinances with restrictions on where to place fire pits.
Can fire pits cause house fires?
Fire pits can cause house fires if it’s too close to the house, placed on a wood deck, or lit under an overhang. You should make sure there is nothing flammable within a 10-foot perimeter of the pit. That includes your stored wood stack.
What are the safest fire pits?
Natural gas or propane fire pits or bowls are the safest as long as they are CSA approved. Where should I put a fire pit in my backyard?
Fire pits should be installed or placed on a surface that’s level. It should be a wide-open space and away from trees with low-hanging limbs, shrubs, woodpiles, or structures.
Can a fire pit explode?
A fire pit can explode if it was built with the wrong materials. That includes concrete blocks, river rocks, and pea gravel. They trap water and will explode when heated. Another issue is how people start fire pits. Never use gasoline or gas starter on a fire.
Do you need a lid on a fire pit while burning?
It’s smart to have a cover if you don’t want to move your portable pit between fires. Also, invest in a fire screen to protect everyone.
How much area do you need around a fire pit?
Plan your fire pit space as you are planning your outdoor living area. Make sure there is seating and enough room between seating and the fire pit for people to safely enjoy it. A general rule is to have seven feet of space immediately around the fire pit.
How do I keep my kids safe around a fire pit?
Always supervise them and tell them not to get close. Use only seasoned hardwood and keep their seats at a safe distance away. Make sure cooking skewers are long enough so they don’t need to stand close. Extinguish ashes properly, pouring water on them and monitoring for a while.