Fire Pit Safety
What to do when your outdoor hearth gets too hot to handle
A blazing fire pit is a delightful comfort on cool nights—unless the fire flares out of control. For safety's sake, take these precautions before striking the match. Never place a pit closer than 10 feet from anything flammable, including your house and overhead tree branches. With gas pits, make sure all vents are clear to avoid smoky flare-ups. And only use the fuel that the pit is built to burn. For traditional wood-burning pits, that means using dry, well-seasoned sticks. Also, don't load in so many that there's a danger of some falling out. Once the pit is lit, keep the following close at hand, just in case your merry bonfire suddenly starts burning a little too bright.
Water or sand. Extinguishing a flare-up might be as simple as keeping your garden hose nearby, with the water turned on and the nozzle set to "spray." (A focused stream of water could spread burning embers.) Check ahead of time to see if your pit can withstand a dousing; water can crack ceramic pits and even some metal ones. If it can't get wet, or if you're not sure, keep a bucket of dry sand nearby to dump on the flames. For a gas or propane pit, turn off the supply before attempting to extinguish any fire.
Fire extinguisher. It should be a dry-chemical extinguisher with a Class B and C or multipurpose rating, such as the one you have in your kitchen. Be ready to follow the PASS procedure: Pull the pin; Aim at the base of the fire; Squeeze the trigger slowly; Sweep the nozzle from side to side. Remember that most portable fire extinguishers have a range of just 6 to 10 feet and last for 8 to 10 seconds.
Portable phone. 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 your local fire department.
TOH Pro Tip: When burning wood in bowl-shaped fire pits, keep the sticks no longer than three-quarters of the bowl's diameter.