Fire pits—whether they are portable or permanent—can provide warmth, ambiance, and style to outdoor gatherings. Since summertime is often associated with fire pit get-togethers, owners should be careful about the potential dangers if they fail to perform maintenance and take proper precautions.
Routine basic upkeep of outdoor fire pits is required just like an indoor fireplace would need. If you do not use your fire pit year round, thoroughly clean it at the beginning of each heavy-use season and remove excess ash buildup from previous use. During winter and spring months when fire pits are not used as often, birds or rodents can use them as nesting sites. It is important to check fire pits for any signs of animal activity and completely clear them before the first use of the season. Homes.com recommends also checking for other signs of wear before using fire pits such as crumbling masonry in permanent fire pits or worn pilot lights in gas-powered fire pits.
General Safety Instructions
The following are tips for safety in backyard fire pits including recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Place your fire pit at least 10 feet away from your home and your neighbors’ yards in an open area without overhangs or canopies;
- Keep any flammable liquid containers and material a safe distance away;
- Check the wind speed and direction as well as any local weather alerts before starting a fire;
- Keep something to extinguish the fire such as a garden hose ready close at hand;
- Do not attempt to move a lit fireplace or one that is still hot;
- Use a metal screen over the pit when available to reduce sparks floating out which could potentially create another, unexpected fire;
- Warn children of the dangers of fire and watch to make sure that they always stay at a safe distance;
- Store matches, lighters, or other fire starters away from children;
- Never leave an active fire unattended;
- Fully extinguish the fire after you are done using it.
Selecting a Wood to Use as Fuel
Though it may seem like a simple concept, choosing the fuel source for your fire pit is one of the most important safety factors. Never burn treated wood or any garbage in your fire pit since burning chemicals from pressure-treated lumber and plastic releases toxic fumes. It is recommended to use a locally-sourced firewood because it prevents the spread of invasive species. Also, dry wood (wood with a lower moisture level compared to softwood) is preferable because it produces less “pops”, which can send sparks flying.
To read more about outdoor fire safety, read our previous blog on the principles of campfire safety.