Fire Pits: Bad Rap or Death-Trap?

What you need to know before adding one to your yard.


September 4, 2020

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Fire pits  can be a fun outdoor activity in the chillier months of the year. With the holiday season approaching, roasting marshmallows over a fire is an appealing activity that can be fun for both adults and children. According to a recent survey, 67% of homeowners said they wanted an outdoor fire to keep parties going as the night air gets nippy.  However,  fire pits  can be very dangerous to homeowners and the environment, especially if they are not properly tended.   United States Fire Administration  reports that approximately 5,000 Americans are injured by charcoal, wood-burning, or propane gas fires each year. Fire pits are included among this statistic and come with some safety risks.

If you decide to include a fire pit in your yard, we recommend understanding the potential risks and taking the right safety precautions.

Fire Pits: Why The Bad Rap?

So why are fire pits getting such a bad rap lately? According to the  United States Fire Administration, i it takes less than 30 seconds for a small flame to get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. The excess smoke can sometimes lead to lung irritation and have additional environmental concerns. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented, and short of breath. The  Maine Bureau of Air Quality  recommends using only seasoned firewood and burning it in a way that promotes complete combustion — small, hot fires are better than large smoldering ones — to minimize the amount of harmful smoke. You should also never sit downwind of a smoking fire, as this causes you to breathe in more of the smoke.

Burn Safely

To help you safely enjoy an outdoor fire, we have provided some safety guidelines so that your experience will be a good one. Following certain safety precautions can help reduce your chances of injuries.  Use these  tips  to keep your  friendly fire from getting out of control.

  1. Station your fire pit on a  level  ceramic, concrete, stone, or brick surface that’s at least 10 feet from your house, trees, and anything flammable. Don’t put the fire pit on a grassy surface, wood deck, or enclosed porch. Before you light anything on fire, check which direction the wind is blowing to ensure the right location for your fire pit.

  2. Never  start a fire with kerosene, alcohol, lighter fluid, or gas. Discard used matches only after they are completely extinguished. Try dipping matches in a cup of water before discarding them to be sure they are completely out. Always burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least 6 months earlier. To keep sparks from flying, make sure logs are no longer than three-quarters of the pit’s diameter.

  3. Be prepared!  Keep a bucket of sand, a fire extinguisher, or a garden hose nearby in case things get too hot to handle. Additionally, if any cuts or burns were to occur,  be sure you have a first-aid kit handy!

  4. Supervise children at all times when using a fire pit. Teach your children about the dangers of fire and do not leave them unattended by the open flame. Having children sit further back than 3 feet is important, as sparks can still fly from the fire into the open air and cause minor burns and injuries.

  5. Be sure the fire is  completely extinguished  before leaving it unattended. Also check you’re your smoke detectors nearest the area you are burning your fire are working properly. In the event a fire gets out of control and reaches your home, it’s important that you have a warning from that smoke detector.

Propane Gas Fire Pit Safety

If you’re using a propane gas fire pit you’re going to want to check and make sure that you don’t have any leaks before you start your fire. If an emergency does occur, make sure you turn off the gas supply (safely) as soon as possible. You should clean your burners and pipes regularly to avoid build-up and keep the fire area clear of clutter. Do not add any lighter fluid, gasoline, paper, or any other flammable materials to your propane gas fire pit.

Local Fire Codes

In some places prone to wildfire, disclosing your fire pit may be a requirement of your homeowner’s insurance policy. It may also be a good idea to check in with an insurance agent to understand any potential impact a fire pit may have on your coverage. Also, be sure to contact your local fire department or municipality to determine if there are any laws against having a fire pit in your backyard. Some counties and cities have laws that prohibit open flames in backyards, and others require your home to be inspected for general safety hazards. Brinks Home™  encourages everyone to use and maintain their  smoke detectors  and remember to be safe this holiday season!

Lauren Slade is a Dallas-based writer and editor.

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