Safety Tips for Using Your Fire Pit

Fire pits should be constructed on a safe surface.

Fire pits should be constructed on a safe surface.

Many homeowners light up their fire pits in the fall as temperatures drop. A fire pit can be a wonderful way to entertain and enjoy company in the night air. But a fire pit is a responsibility and it should be managed safely. We spoke with a fire official to get these fire pit safety tips.

Make Sure it’s Legal
Always check with the local fire department, as some cities or towns don’t allow fire pits. Don’t assume that because you live in a rural setting with few close neighbors that it’s legal for you to have a fire pit.

Let Your Neighbors Know
It’s a good idea to tell your neighbors (especially if they are close by) that you have a fire pit. When they see smoke they will know the source and that will reduce the possibility of a complaint. It may not be the fear of a fire that makes neighbors queasy: they may not want the smell of smoke in their area or someone in their home may have a health condition that would be aggravated by the smoke.

“Inviting the neighbor over for a soda pop and a sit around the fire pit can go a long way,” said a fire official in Novi, Michigan. “We get many complaints about fire pits which are often misunderstandings that could be avoided with communication from the homeowner.”

Keep the Fire Pit Away from Combustibles
Do not place your fire pit next to your home – in fact, you should position it no less than 25 feet away from any buildings or structures (your home, garage, neighbors, hot tubs, outbuildings, sheds, etc.) Do not park vehicles closer than 25 feet away either.

Set it on a Non-Combustible Surface
Do not place your fire pit on an enclosed porch, on grass, or on a wood deck. The best surfaces are brick, stone, and cement. Read your manual carefully to find out how much heat your fire pit can put out. Says our fire official: “We recommend a brick surface and have the area underneath the fire pit covered with sand or gravel.”

Choose Wood Carefully
Make sure to select logs that are the proper size for safety: to minimize sparks do not place logs in the fire pit that are longer than ¾ of the pit’s diameter. The wood should be seasoned and dry. For best results, use wood that was cut at least six months prior.

Be Safe When Starting Your Fire
Though you may be tempted, DO NOT USE gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fluid to light your fire. “Use fire blocks – they don’t flare. You put the wood on top after the heat is established.”

Don’t Burn Waste
It’s never acceptable to burn waste or garbage in your fire pit. It’s dangerous, it’s against fire code, and it‘s a nuisance to nearby neighbors. Still, every year many people think they can burn trash in their fire pit and it frequently necessitates intervention from the fire department.

“People think that it’s acceptable to burn waste and the smoke can be very offensive to people nearby,” says a fire official in Michigan. As a result, the fire department responds to complaints from neighbors.

Teach Children the Rules
All children, regardless of age, need to be taught how to be safe near fire pits. Children should be told never to horse around or play near fire pits, even if they think the fire pits are not being used. The fire pit can be very hot. There should never be any running or activity of that nature near a fire pit. Children shouldn’t set fires in the pit nor should they approach the fire pit to cook food. In fact, our fire official explains that families should create a rule that kids are to stay so many feet away from the fire pit at all times. Choose a perimeter and enforce it.

Be Prepared
Have a bucket of sand and a hose handy. Also install a fire extinguisher at the closest entry to your home or garage or whichever building is closest to your fire pit. This is known as having “a means to extinguish” readily available, and in most areas the law will require this.

Tend the Fire from Start to Finish
As the owner of your fire pit, you are responsible for the fire you build from start to finish. Never take a fire for granted. When extinguishing a fire, ensure that all embers are out and never leave a hot fire unattended. It’s the most common reason a fire department is called to a home with a fire pit.

“Usually the fire pit is burning and left unattended and there’s a complaint,” our fire official explained. “As a result we have the right to extinguish.”

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