Fire pits are a godsend for those who — like us — love taking advantage of the longer summer days by spending more time in the backyard, even if the sunset comes with a sudden drop in temperature in the Bay Area. The golden embers shining in the pit do carry some health and safety risks, however.
Here's what you need to keep in mind to stay safe:
First thing's first, you'll want to place your fire pit 10 to 20 feet away from any surrounding plants, structures, or combustible surfaces including your house, your neighbors' yard, covered porches, and low-hanging tree branches. It's also a great idea to use sand, brick, or gravel to create a five-foot buffer.
Pro tip: Steer clear of wooden decks or grass, which can catch on fire, and set up your fire pit on an even, non-flammable surface such as a patio block, concrete, or gravel.
You'll Need a Few Things
Before lighting your fire, make sure you have everything you'll need. We recommend the following:
- a fire pit that's six inches deep and two feet wide to help contain the fire
- a wire mesh cover made of heat-resistant metal like cast iron or steel to keep embers from spreading
- a saw or other tool to cut your logs to less than three quarters the length of your fire pit's diameter so they fit neatly inside
- a shovel, a bucket of sand, and/or water to extinguish your fire and flyaway sparks
- a fire blanket and/or a fire extinguisher with a Class B or C or multipurpose rating for emergencies (make sure it hasn't expired and that you know how to use it properly before lighting anything!)
- a metal can to dispose of ashes in
Before Lighting Your Fire
Once you have everything you need, read the extinguishing instructions for your fire pit to avoid damaging it or hurting yourself in case of an emergency.
It's also important to check the wind's direction and move any items that could catch on fire out of the way or further out. If there's too much wind or an air quality advisory, you'll need to reschedule your fire pit use to another day.
Let's Get That Fire Started
To light your fire, we recommend using a commercial fire starter stick and kindling (small sticks) then adding larger and larger sticks until you're ready to add a log or two. Only put the amount of wood you need to keep a small fire burning and add more as it dies down.
Always avoid lighter fluids and accelerants. They can release toxic fumes, start an explosion, or cause your fire to grow too quickly. Paper products, garbage, and construction materials are also best avoided as they can also lead to an unmanageable fire or release toxic fumes.
Pro tip: Seasoned hardwoods like oak or hickory work best since soft wood including pine, cedar, and birch tend to pop and throw sparks. You'll want to cut the logs to a length that's less than three quarters of your pit's diameter to make sure they fit neatly inside and contain the fire.
Extinguishing Your Fire
You have several options for putting out your fire:
A.) You can drown it. If you're using a water hose, make sure to spray the water since a direct stream of water can spread sparks. Then use a shovel to stir the ashes around until everything is soaked and no hot embers remain.
B.) You can also smother it with sand. Again, you'll want to use the shovel to stir the ashes and make sure all embers have been put out completely.
Last, but not least, ensure everything has cooled and dispose of the ashes in a metal can used only for that purpose. Left in the pit, your ashes could restart even if you thought the fire was out. Putting ashes in flammable materials such as a compost pile, paper bags, and cardboard boxes are other common mistakes.
Pro tip: Watch out for unexpected damage. Water can crack ceramic fire pits and some metal ones (one of the reasons it's important to read your pit's extinguishing instructions before getting started!).
Friendly Reminder: Fire Safety
A lot of these tips are common sense and apply to any fire, really, but bear with us. They're easily forgotten and can mean the difference between a pleasant evening at home around the fire and a call to 911.
- Don't leave a fire unattended, ever
- Don't leave children or pets unattended near the fire either
- Change out of flammable or loose fitting clothing
- Be wary of keeping a clear perimeter around the fire so loved ones can move around it comfortably — don't want anyone falling in!
And there you have it! Follow the advice above to keep the fire where it's supposed to be — in your pit — and you'll be well on your way to a nice, relaxed get-together around the fire. Want more inspiration for backyard gatherings? Check out our Guide to the Ultimate Summer Party for playlist tips, dessert ideas, and more.