Backyard Fire Pit Safety Tips

Marshmallows roasting over a fire

If you’re a first-time backyard fire pit owner, you’re likely new to enjoying bonfires in general. Burning a fire out in the open under trees, even with nothing but concrete or grass around the pit, offers a lot more risk than using your indoor fireplace or gas heater. You need to follow a few basic fire safety tips and take a few more specific safety measures according to the fire pit's design. It’s easy to get familiar with your fire safety practices for any backyard fire pit if you have a test burn or two before inviting everyone over to enjoy.

Check for Local Burn Permits and Requirements

Start your backyard bonfire dreams with a call to the local fire department or the non-emergency line of your police department. Check and see if your city or county has any backyard burning restrictions. Burn permits may be required, even for the smallest backyard fire pits. Restrictions can change rapidly during the summer and fall as areas dry out and weather patterns change, so check in to ensure you’re allowed to burn before assuming you can follow the same old rules.

Consider the Weather and Wind

Firepit sparks being picked up by the wind

You need more than a dry day or night to burn in your backyard fire pit. Watch out for wind, which can spring up unexpectedly only after you’ve started your fire. Wind gusts are particularly hard to deal with because they tend to scatter coals and send sparks spiraling up to spread the fire. Flammable materials like leaves can also be blown into the pit. Aim for still days and evenings where there’s little to no wind to stoke the flames.

Avoid Flammable Liquids

While lighter fluid or alcohol may sound like a quick way to jump-start a fire, it’s particularly dangerous in the average backyard fire pit. Raised pits made from materials like cast iron or steel can crack when suddenly heated by the flare of these liquids. They’re also all too likely to spill or create a flash of flame that causes injury to you or your guests. Skip the paper and trash or other things that seem harmless to burn. They can send up irritating fumes or flare up and float out of the pit, spreading flames.

Stick to Dried Hardwood

Chopped wood stacked with a fire going in the background

Pine and cedar can technically be burned outdoors when they’re unsafe to use in fireplaces and wood stoves. But they tend to pop and crack violently, sending sparks flying everywhere. For a smooth fire with minimal smoke and minimal annoying popping, it's best to stick to well-dried hardwood firewood only.

Wear Form-fitting Clothing

Loose sleeves and unsecured long hair are dangers many people overlook around an open fire. Artificial fabrics are particularly dangerous for their propensity to flare up, but even cotton or wool won’t help if you’re draping your outfit in the flame. Tell your guests to keep their outfits form-fitting and not free-flowing when gathering around the backyard fire pit.

Always Stay by the Fire

A group of friends all sitting around the firepit keeping warm and roasting marshmallows

Don’t walk away from the fire or let it burn out unattended. Even stepping away for a few minutes to collect something from indoors can allow the pit to tip over or for coals to blow out and spread the flames. Even spark screens and covers can’t replace the need for actual observation. Watching the fire pit from indoors isn’t a great choice either. Commit to staying with the pit until the fire dies down enough to put it out.

Know How to Extinguish the Flames

A close-up on burning wood in a firepit

Before you ever strike a match or spark a light, know how you’ll extinguish the fire if it reaches its maximum possible size in the pit. This should combine two methods, preferably, such as buckets of sand and a compatible outdoor fire extinguisher. Don’t settle for a water hose that is likely to scatter coals and cause irritating smoke to billow up and obscure your vision. Dry methods of smothering the fire with sprays and foams tend to be a better choice. Wetting the fire pit is usually acceptable if you’re willing to let the fire burn down completely until there are just a few hot coals left. Make sure you sift through the ash after extinguishing the fire to check it’s truly out and not just smoldering below the cover.

With a little preparation and some practice, you can have fun with any kind of backyard fire pit. Try adding a few different pits to your backyard to create plenty of opportunities for grilling, roasting marshmallows, and more. Most of these tips apply to gas flame displays and grills too.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.


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