Keeping your fire pit safe this summer

After the sun goes down on a summer evening, relaxing around a fire pit can be a great way to close out the day. Whether you spend the time cozying up with a loved one or roasting marshmallows, you're sure to enjoy yourself.

It's no surprise that fire pits have become a more common backyard feature. They can be constructed as a permanent part of the landscape, or you can purchase a portable one and relocate it as necessary. Some fire pits will burn wood, while others are hooked up to propane or other flammable gas.

Naturally, starting a fire next to your home can also pose a risk for property damage or injury. Making sure you set up and use your fire pit properly will minimize the chances of a disaster.

Location

No matter what type of fire pit you have, it should be located in a safe place. Ana Durrani, writing for Realtor.com, says fire pits should be at least 10 feet away from your home or any other structure. This helps ensure that sparks or embers won't start a fire outside the pit.

Make sure the fire pit isn't too close to your neighbor's property, either. Farm Bureau Financial Services, an insurance company based in Des Moines, Iowa, says the pit should be a safe distance from any structures or plants across the property line.

Fire pits can also cause serious burns if they are not situated properly. Libby Mitchell, writing for University of Utah Health, says people can be injured if they fall into the pit, get too close to the flames, or come into contact with hot metal. The fire pit should be on a level surface with plenty of space around it to ensure that people will have steady footing and can keep a safe distance away.

Avoid placing a fire pit where it might ignite overhanging materials. The home improvement site HomeAdvisor says it shouldn't be too close to branches or fences. Farm Bureau Financial Services says they should also not be under canopies or building overhangs such as patio enclosures.

Don't place a portable fire pit on any flammable surface, such as wooden decks. John Planas, deputy fire marshal of the Guilford Fire Department, recently advised that areas with a higher fire risk should have fire pits surrounded by non-combustible materials such as brick or crushed stone.

Materials

Only certain materials should be burned in the fire pit. For wood-burning fire pits, seasoned hardwoods are ideal. The logs should be short enough to fit inside the enclosure.

Other types of wood shouldn't be burned, since they will release toxic fumes. Durrani says pressure-treated wood and construction debris should not be tossed into the fire pit. You should also avoid burning materials such as plastics or loose paper.

Use materials such as kindling and fire starters to light up a wood-burning fire pit. Never add gasoline, kerosene, or other accelerants to start or intensify a blaze.

Precautions

Before buying or building a fire pit, check the rules in your town or community. There may be restrictions on where you can have a fire pit or when you can use it, and some places may forbid open fires altogether.

Call your insurance company to see if the fire pit affects your policy. You may need to adjust your coverage to allow for adequate liability coverage in case the fire pit results in damage to a neighbor's property or injury to a visitor. HomeAdvisor says your policy may also require you to disclose the addition of a fire pit to the property.

Check the local weather report to see if there are any hazardous conditions. Farm Bureau Financial Services says fire pits are more likely to unexpectedly spark other blazes on windy days. You should also refrain from lighting a fire if it there has been minimal rainfall, since dry grass and shrubs are more likely to be ignited.

Ideally, you should have a screen which can be placed over the fire pit when you aren't making s'mores. Screens help to confine sparks and embers, minimizing the chance of fires starting elsewhere.

There should be a fire extinguisher or other way to quickly douse the fire if necessary. Planas says a bucket of sand is a good way to smother sparks. A garden hose can also work well; a shower setting on the nozzle will be most effective in putting out the fire, since a stronger stream can kick up sparks.

Rules

Establish a set of rules for everyone to follow when using the fire pit. Children should be aware of these rules, and should be supervised when the fire pit is being used. Mitchell says people should be asked to stay a safe distance away from the flames.

Any visitors should wear appropriate clothing. Farm Bureau Insurance Services says loose, flowing clothing might get blown too close to the fire and ignite. HomeAdvisor says nylon clothing can also catch fire easily.

Never leave a fire burning unattended. Mitchell says coals can stay hot for several hours after the flames die down, and should ideally be thoroughly doused with water to eliminate any fire danger.

However, putting water on some types of fire pit can cause them to warp or crack. Planas says you should check with the fire pit's manufacturer for their recommendations on how to best extinguish the flames.

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