Keep it safe around the fire

fire pit
Photo: Ray Ruminski

Backyard fire pits and campfires are popular centerpieces for catching up, sharing laughs and, of course, indulging in roasted marshmallows and s’mores.

But any activity involving fire requires extra caution – especially when kids are around. Nearly 11,000 people 19 or younger visited hospital emergency rooms with fire pit-related injuries between 2006 and 2017, and the majority were younger than 5, according to a study published in the American Burn Association’s Journal of Burn Care and Research in July 2019.

Whether you’re enjoying a fire miles from the nearest town or steps away from your home, following these tips will help keep you, your family and your friends safe.

Prepare your pit

From custom builds to DIY projects, permanent fire pits have become a popular backyard feature.

If you’re digging your own pit, Jeff Heinz, fire safety specialist for Palm Beach County (FL) Fire Rescue, recommends marking off the size of it and then digging out any grass and debris, leaving at least 3 inches of dirt or sand at the bottom. Next, build a 3-foot “safety zone” around your pit using small rocks.

The National Fire Protection Association says fire pits and campfires should be at least 25 feet away from all structures and flammable objects.

If you’re on a campsite and an established metal ring or rock pit is available, use it. If you’re building your own, make sure to clear a 3-foot safety zone around the perimeter.

Portable fire pits

One benefit of portable fire pits is they can be moved to the safest location based on the weather. During high winds, a fire has a greater chance of spreading outside your pit.

“If you plan to move the fire pit, do it before you light the fire,” said Emily McGee, director of communications for the Arlington, VA-based Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Wait a few hours after a fire has been extinguished before relocating your portable pit.

Heinz recommends putting about 3 inches of sand in the bottom of a portable pit to make it less likely to tip over.

Bring your tools, and know before you go

So what else do you need to have on hand to keep things safe?

A trusty shovel, along with a hose that’s ready to spray or a bucket of water, are the preferred tools for quickly putting out a fire. If water isn’t available, keep a small pile of sand or dirt next to your pit to extinguish the fire as needed.

Fire pit cages and screens can help keep embers from escaping and causing burns or your fire to spread. They also can minimize the risk of someone falling into the pit. You can buy one online or at a home improvement store.

Planning a camping trip? Whitney Forman-Cook, communications director for the National Association of State Foresters, said it’s important to check the government website of the state you’ll be in to learn about any burning restrictions that may apply.

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