Considering a fire pit? If so, you should also consider whether you can safely install and use a fire pit. Depending on where you live, you may have to get permits or disclose your fire pit to the city and your insurance company. There are also important factors to consider when you decide what kind of fuel, seating, supervision, and lighting you’ll use for the fire pit. But we’ll cover all that in this article.
To make things a little easier, we’ve decided to break the tips down into sections. That way, if you’ve already decided on and installed a fire pit, you can skip to the Safety Tips for Using a Fire Pit section.
Fire Pit Safety Tips: Deciding on a Fire Pit
The type of fire pit you buy will have a definite impact on its safe operation. From size, transportability, and the type of fuel it uses, you’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to fire pits. And all of them require slightly different safety techniques.
Tip 1: Decide on a Permanent or Movable Fire Pit
As you can imagine, permanent fire pits aren’t at risk of being knocked over. They’re typically fastened to the ground or too heavy to easily tip. Many of the larger portable fire pits are also pretty heavy, but there’s still a risk there. If you have kids or pets running around, or tend to have parties involving alcohol, a permanent fire pit may be your best bet.
Tip 2: Natural Gas, Propane, or Wood Fire Pit
The type of fuel you use can also determine your level of safety. You can’t usually have a natural gas fire pit that’s portable, since there’s typically a gas line installed from your home to the fire pit.
Propane, on the other hand, is common among portable fire pits. But, most portable fire pits have a safety mechanism that will shut off the propane supply if the pit is tipped over or tilted.
Wood is probably the riskiest of fuel sources when it comes to fire pits. Many people prefer wood because of the sound and smell it makes when burning. You just can’t mimic the popping and crackling of a fire with propane or natural gas. But, the risk of uncontrolled fire is higher with wood because it can send off embers or hot ashes that can catch dry grass, leaves, fences, or even houses on fire.
If you live in a dry climate, you may want to stay away from wood fire pits. Instead, stick with propane or natural gas.
Tip 3: Fire Pit Size
You also want to consider the size of your fire pit before you buy one. You can purchase pits anywhere from 3 to 6 feet wide, so you’ve got plenty of options.
Buying a nice, big fire pit is tempting, but the bigger the fire the harder it is to control. Again, this comes back to the type of fuel you’re going to use, as well.
Propane and natural gas fire pits generally have a limit to how big their flames get. Wood fires, on the other hand, can get as big as you want. Pushing a wood fire pit to its limit can cause more embers and sparks to fly out, increasing the risk of burning someone by the fire or starting a brush fire.
Tip 4: Installing or Placing a Fire Pit
To make your fire pit as safe as possible, you also want to consider where and on what you’ll be placing the pit.
- You’ll want to place the fire pit at least 10 feet away from your home, your neighbors’ property line, and any other structure (like a shed or playground equipment).
- You’ll also want to make sure you avoid placing it directly underneath overhanging trees or structures (like an awning or power lines).
- Lastly, be sure to check your local laws regarding fire pits. Some areas require you to get approval or permits before installing or using a fire pit in your yard. Check for burn bans in your area. If you do have burn bans often, you may not get much use out of your fire pit, so check your local laws before purchasing!
Tip 5: The Proper Fire Pit Surface
It’s best to be mindful of the surface you want to place your fire pit on. For best results, make sure the surface isn’t flammable or susceptible to heat damage. Even if you have a raised fire pit, you don’t want to put it on a wooden deck or anything that will burn.
Instead, you should place your fire pit on level dirt, stone, rocks, or concrete. Assume that the area around the fire pit will suffer burns at some point, act accordingly, and you’ll be good to go.
Tip 6: Safe Seating Around Your Fire Pit
Safe seating is also an effective way to keep people from getting burned or having an accident around the fire. The best way to have safe seating is to make the seating options immovable. You can do this by installing rock benches, getting heavy log seats, or simply using chairs that are too heavy to move easily.
When you install the seating around your fire pit, you keep people from sitting too close to the fire, but still make it enjoyable. Depending on the size of your fire pit, seating should be anywhere from 5 to 10 feet away.
Using a Fire Pit Safety Tips
These last tips will give you an idea of how best to light, maintain, and extinguish your fire pit.
Tip 7: Don’t Use Accelerants
If you have a wood fire pit, avoid using accelerants to light or rekindle the fire. Lighter fluid can be very dangerous and toxic to breathe. Instead, you can use newspaper, wood shavings, twigs, or natural fire starters to get your fire pit started.
Tip 8: Choose Your Wood Carefully
Believe it or not, some types of wood are better for use in fire pits than others. Avoid using treated wood, as the chemicals used to treat it can cause the wood to burn fast and give off toxic fumes. The same goes for wood typically used for construction. It may have a coating that you can’t see or feel, and it also may have nails, screws, staples, or other foreign objects in it.
Hickory and oak wood are best for backyard burns. They tend to pop less, reducing the risk of a rogue ember landing in your yard or on your house. Of course, you can always get a fire pit screen cover to help prevent embers from escaping. Many fire pits available come with a spark screen included.
Tip 9: Choose the Right Attire
Anyone enjoying the fire should take some simple steps to stay as safe as possible.
- Avoid highly flammable clothing materials like thin cotton and rayon. Instead, wear thick clothing made out of wool or silk. Nylon is slow to burn, but once it does it can melt onto the skin, causing serious burns.
- If possible, avoid wearing baggy clothing around the fire pit. Things like robes, puffy dresses, baggy sweatshirts, and nightgowns can increase the chances of an accidental burn.
- For those with long hair, it’s best to tie it back in a ponytail. Any necklaces or other loose items should be tucked away. For the little ones, make sure their shoes are tied! It only takes a little trip on a shoelace to cause problems beside a fire pit.
Tip 10: Check the Weather
Before you call the friends or family together for a nice fire pit gathering, it’s a good idea to check the weather. First of all, you don’t want to get caught out in a storm. Second, windy weather can not only make it hard to keep a fire lit, but it can also pose a safety risk. When wind sweeps over your fire it can take burning embers and coals with it. With the right wind, they can travel pretty far while staying lit. Best not to chance it at all!
Tip 11: Be Prepared to Extinguish
Any time you light your fire pit, bring out the fire extinguisher. This can be an actual red fire extinguisher like you keep in your kitchen, or you can use other things. One option is a garden hose you can use to douse an out-of-control fire. Another is a bucket of sand, soil, or gravel.
Tip 12: Never Leave Your Fire Unattended
This tip is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how tempting it is to head inside for a few minutes thinking that the fire will be fine. Before you know it, you’ve been distracted by something inside and the fire is unattended. It’s also worth noting that if you have kids or pets around, there should always be an adult present at the fire.
Tip 13: Extinguish Properly
When you are done with the fire, make sure to extinguish it properly. For propane and natural gas fire pits, this is pretty easy. Just make sure to turn the gas all the way off. For wood fires, it’s a different story, but you’ve got a couple of different options.
- If possible, let the wood burn down to embers while you or someone else is in attendance. Some fire pits suggest that you extinguish the fire this way, as using water can damage the fire pit material.
- If you don’t have the time or inclination to let the fire burn down, douse it with water and then mix the ashes and embers around with a stick, poker, or fireplace shovel. You want to make sure everything gets wet and goes out.
- You can also extinguish a fire with sand or dirt instead of water. Just pour it over the fire and mix it around the embers until they’re all smothered.
- Easily snuff a fire out with a dome or a lid for fire pits. This is a great option because, once you put it on, it starves the fire of oxygen while simultaneously keeping the cooling embers and coals safely inside the fire pit. You just need to make sure the one you buy will fit over your fire pit.
Tip 14: Educate the Kids
The vast majority of fire-related burns happen to kids who touch hot coals after the fire has been “put out”. To avoid this, either put out the fire completely with sand or water, or educate your kids to never touch the ashes in the fire pit.
You can teach older kids how to check to make sure the fire remnants are safe to touch, but you’ll still want to exercise caution when kids of any age are around the fire pit.