There’s little more enticing than a nice, blazing fire. Like moths to light, we’re drawn to fire. Some of it is probably primal; we recognize the light and heat that fires give off, and it registers in our ancient lizard-brains.
Fire means safety— when it’s under our control. Unfortunately, a nice little fire can turn on you quickly. It can spell disaster if you’re not ready for it. Especially if you live in a dry climate. But, even those of us living in places that receive a lot of rainfall need to heed fire safety tips. Before we consider getting a permanent or portable fire pit, we need to answer the question: Are backyard fire pits safe?
The answer is yes. Backyard fire pits are safe— if you take the proper precautions and exercise common sense. So, really it could go either way. A backyard fire pit is as safe as you want to make it. No more and no less. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to exercise safety and avoid mishaps.
In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about backyard fire pit safety!
Deciding on a Fire Pit
Before you head out or hop online to get a fire pit, it’s worth some thoughtful consideration. We’ll go over how to decide to get a fire pit in regards to both permanent pits and portable ones. But first, let’s talk about determining the criteria for either one.
Fire Pit Placement
One of the best ways to keep your fire pit safe and reduce the risk of unfortunate accidents is the correct placement. No matter what kind of pit you want to get, or what type of fuel you’re going to burn (we’ll talk about that later) you’ll want to follow some basic guidelines.
Away From the House
You’ll want to check your local laws about fire pit placement, but typically you want to be at least 10 feet from your house or any other structure. Trading a house for a fire pit is no great trade, but that’s what will happen if you place your pit too close. An errant ember can float into the dry eves of your house and start a blaze that can’t be stopped. Okay, so it’s pretty rare, but still. Better safe than sorry.
Keep Away from Other Obstructions
Your fire pit should also be at least 15 to 20 feet away from your neighbors yard or fence line. Your yard might be pristine and clean, but your neighbors yard could have piles of dry leaves stacked against your fence. Again, better safe than sorry.
You also don’t want to place a fire pit under low-hanging tree branches or any kind of awning whatsoever. Sparks tend to fly up out of wood fires. When they can float into the night and extinguish, they’re not much to worry about. But if they can float into a tree or an awning, you may have problems.
Place Your Fire Pit on Appropriate Materials
This one’s a no brainer, but it’s still worth saying. Placing a fire pit— even a raised one— on a wooden deck is never a good idea. When you place your fire pit, put it on rock, gravel, concrete, brick, or anything that won’t catch fire. The same should be said for placing it near dry grass, leaves, or piles of wood you’ll use for fuel. Keep your fuel separated from the fire pit by at least 10 feet.
Permanent Fire Pits
You’ll have to put a little more research and thought into getting a permanent fire pit because they typically require installation. If you want one that is fueled by propane or natural gas, you may have to have a gas line installed. You may even be required to apply for permits for a fire pit, depending on your local laws.
Portable Fire Pits
Portable fire pits are usually cheaper to purchase, which makes them attractive to many homeowners. But people tend to forget about the safety aspects and place them too close to houses, trees, or fences.
It’s also a good idea to make sure the ground is level wherever you’re going to place the fire pit. The entire base of the pit needs to be on steady ground, otherwise it can be knocked over easily.
Gas or Wood Fire Pits
Gas fire pits are generally safer than wood for the simple reason that you don’t have embers or coals popping out of a gas pit. But, there’s a tradeoff there. Half the fun of a fire is listening to the popping and cracking of the flames as they consume the wood.
It’s much easier to put out a gas fire pit; you simply turn it off. Wood fire pits require that you douse the flames, let them burn down, or snuff them out. Ultimately the choice is up to you. It’s still imperative that you treat a gas fire with respect. A fire is still a fire, no matter the fuel.
Operating Your Fire Pit
Once you decide on a fire pit, there are things you should do every time before you light it. The following tips will help your awesome fire pit sessions stay safe.
Check Local Weather and Burn Bans
Before lighting your pit, check to see if the weather calls for high winds. Even if it isn’t windy outside at the moment, you never know when the weather will change. A single heavy gust of wind can scatter coals and embers all around your neighborhood.
You should also check for local burn bans. Many areas are incredibly dry, have poor air quality, or both. Burn bans are put into effect for the safety and health of everyone in the area.
Be Prepared for Anything
Every time you light your fire pit, hope for the best and plan for the worst. This is easily done by having a garden hose, bag of sand, or bucket of gravel handy. You can douse any errant flames with any of the above quickly.
If you have to run looking for something to douse your fire with, it may be too late. It’s also a good idea to have fire-resistant gloves around in case you need to move or touch elements of your fire pit.
Always Have an Adult Present
Kids love fire just as much or more than adults. Which is why it’s good to have adult supervision around the fire pit at all times. It’s tempting for kids to grab a half-burning stick out of the fire and wave it in the air. Heck, it’s even tempting for adults to do that.
Things can get out of hand quickly with kids and a fire pit, so never leave the young ones unattended. For that matter, the same can be said for the fire itself…
Never Leave a Fire Unattended
Leaving a fire unattended is asking for trouble. It can be tempting to run inside for another drink or a restroom break, but it’s not worth it. Wait for someone to come back outside or douse the fire if you no one can watch it.
If you do decide to put it out, make sure it’s fully out before you leave it. This is easier done with gas fire pits than wood fire pits. Either way, make sure the fuel is out or off and that the flames won’t come back.