Do you have a fire pit in your backyard? If so, you’re in good company, a blazing fire pit has become an increasingly popular added touch to backyards everywhere. Sales soared last autumn as homeowners rushed to create cozy, inviting outdoor spaces for the COVID-19 winter. True Value Hardware, a wholesale supplier to more than 4,500 independently owned stores, said sales of wood-burning fire pits were up over 300% last fall compared to the same time in 2019. For owners and soon-to-be owners of these crowd-pleasing bastions of warmth, here are some important tips that will keep you, your children, pets, and friends safe.

Location & Clearance:three burning billets in hot stove

  • Do not place the pit on a grassy surface, wooden deck, or enclosed porch.
  • Before lighting ensure a minimum of 25 feet clearance from anything flammable including your home, outbuildings and overhead tree branches.

Fire Pit Fuel:

  • Always burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least six months earlier.
  • To keep sparks from flying, use logs less than three-quarters length of the pit’s diameter; do not overload to avoid danger of some falling out.
  • For gas pits, clear all vents to avoid smoky flare-ups; only use the fuel intended for the pit

Starting the Fire:

  • Never use lighter fluid, gas or kerosine.
  • Be ready for the unexpected with these items nearby:
    • Dry-chemical (Class B and C / multipurpose) fire extinguisher.
    • Garden hose, with the water turned on and the nozzle set to “spray.”
    • If your pit will not withstand water, keep a bucket of dry sand nearby to dump on the flames.
  • Cellular phone

Flaming hot red yellow charcoal briquettes in a grill starter

Putting Out a Fire Safely:

  • Use Water or Sand as indicated above
  • For a gas or propane pit, turn off the supply before attempting to extinguish any fire.
  • Coals, embers, and wood can retain heat for hours and hours, even days in the right circumstances.
  • Many house fires occur when remnants of a fire are prematurely tossed into a trash can or dumpster; leave the ash, coal and ember out for several days after an intense fire.
  • Wind can reignite a barely smoking fire; stir and spread-out coals and use water, dirt or sand to extinguish any remaining heat.
  • Don’t to bury the coals in the dirt for that will have the opposite effect.
  • If fire spreads beyond the confines of the pit or flares above your head, or prevents you from switching off the propane tank or natural-gas valve, calmly evacuate everyone from the area and call 911.

It’s important to note that most RI towns and cities allow small recreational fires in their neighborhoods. To build a recreational fire means you are burning a reasonable amount of wood and there is not an unreasonable amount of smoke that can affect your neighbors. Rhode Island has state-wide regulations and each city / town has its own set of rules regarding recreational fires, but most follow similar safety guidelines and laws. These laws and burn bans are for the safety of everyone in the area.

Generally speaking, the State of Rhode Island requires:

  • The fire must be 30 feet away from any abutting residence.
  • The diameter of the pit or place must not exceed 3 feet.
  • The size of the fire must not exceed 2 feet in height.

Firepit-SallyAnne Santos-1200xFind local ordinances here:
More RI Locations

Common local regulations:

  • Weather conditions must be amenable. Fires cannot be burned when wind speed is above 15 miles an hour or if a “Code Red” has been issued by the National Weather Service.
  • The pit or place must have a “spark arresting” cover or cap.
  • The wood must be seasoned for six months, cut and dried.
  • The fires would only be allowed at single family properties or duplexes.
  • There must be a water source such as a hose within range of the fire.
  • All fires must be attended and supervised by an adult the entire time they are burning.

What You Can and Can’t Burn:

BurningPaper1200wSmoke, chemicals, and poisonous gases are not only offensive; they are dangerous to both people and wildlife in the area. Fumes infect the environment and enter into the water supply that various creatures drink from. Wildlife often get the brunt of toxic chemical and smoke which can kill off birds and force small mammals out of their homes. In most places it is illegal to burn the materials below as they pose significant health hazards.

  • Paper causes unnecessary smoke and as it is treated releases unhealthy chemicals into the air.
  • Cardboard creates offensive smoke and can cause a dangerous surge in the fire.
  • Particleboard is held together by adhesives that emit toxic gasses when burned.
  • Wooden pallets are treated with a chemical called methyl bromide which can be released when burned.
  • Magazines ads, newsletters and colored gift-wrapping paper are all made with ink which release toxic fumes when burned.
  • Plastic releases toxic chemicals that are especially bad for young children.
  • Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac contain irritant oils, fumes cause severe lung irritation and allergic responses for some people.
  • Trash releases toxins into the air and produces excessive smoke. It is illegal to burn trash.
  • Pressure treated or painted wood may give off toxic fumes, especially lead-based paints.
  • Green leafy branches and plant life contain moisture that cause excessive smoke.

What You Can Burn, Seasoned Split Wood:

  • Oak produces significant heat while also burning slow and steady.
  • Hickory does not hold onto moisture and burns hotter than oak.
  • Ashwood retains less moisture, burns easily and does not produce much smoke.
  • Cedar is misleading because it does not produce big flames, but it creates toasty heat with an amazing aroma, making it the perfect choice for firewood on a chilly night.

Now that you know, grab the marshmallows and go!

Some Content: This Old House

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