Few experiences are more pleasant than sitting outdoors by a crackling fire on a cool evening. Whether you are toasting marshmallows, roasting hot dogs, or simply enjoying the company of family and friends, it is important to follow some basic fire safety rules to help keep your fun-filled night from turning into an emergency situation.
Before lighting a fire outdoors:
- Clear the area of leaves, grass, pine needles, or other debris that could quickly catch on fire.
- Avoid sitting too close to a fire.
- Have a garden hose or fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency, as well as a phone to call the local fire department, and a first-aid kit for treating minor burns.
Here are a few safety tips on specific types of outdoor fires.
- Backyard Fire Pits: Before you consider installing a backyard fire pit, be sure to find out the laws of your local jurisdiction regarding their use. If allowed, backyard fire pits should be placed on a flat surface in an open area no closer than 10 feet from anything combustible, including trees and shrubbery, overhead branches, outdoor furniture, fences, and your home. Be sure to use dry sticks and avoid overloading the bowl to keep the wood from spilling out. As a safety precaution, use sticks that have a length that is less than three-quarters of the diameter of the fire pit’s bowl. If your fire pit did not come with a screen, consider purchasing one to help keep stray sparks from flying out.
If you have a gas fire pit (which burn propane or butane) be certain that the vents kept are clear to avoid creating heavy smoke. Only use manufacturer-approved materials in the pit, and store the gas far away from it.
- Campfires: Although most campsites have small campfire pits already dug, if there isn’t one, dig one away from any overhanging branches or other combustible items. Circle the campfire with rocks around the area where you want to build the fire to help keep the flames from spreading outside of the enclosed area. Clear an area of roughly five feet around the pit down to the soil. Use kindling to build the fire, and then gradually add larger pieces of wood. If you use matches to light the fire, douse them in water and break them in two before discarding them. Stack any extra firewood at a safe distance from the flames. Keep a shovel nearby to use smother the campfire with soil if it starts to grow out of hand.
- Beach Bonfires: Carefully consider the location of the bonfire prior to building it, keeping it at least 25 feet away from buildings or vehicles. Check that there are no telephone wires or other cables above. Do not build the fire near any low-hanging branches, tall grasses, or brush. Instead of building the fire on the surface of the beach, dig a 12-to-18-inch deep hole with a diameter that is at least 24 inches wider than the bonfire. Place a circle of stones around the diameter of the pit. Do not use gasoline or paraffin to light the bonfire, as they can allow the fire to quickly get out of control. Be sure not to stack the wood too high; flames should not be higher or wider than three feet. Have shovels, several buckets of water, and a fire extinguisher on hand in case of emergency.
Regardless of what kind of outdoor fire you enjoy, be sure to keep flammable liquids at a safe distance. Do not forget to factor in how wind can fan the flames and never leave the fire unattended or children unsupervised near it. Even a small fire can turn into a large one in an instant. Lastly, make sure that the fire is completely out and the embers doused or smothered before heading indoors or leaving the area; do not let it die out on its own. Following these simple, common-sense tips can help ensure that you have a good time and remain safe.