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Family Roasting Marshmallows Over Backyard Fire Pit Photo by Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz/Getty Images

A blazing fire pit has become an increasingly popular added touch to backyards everywhere. Sales have been up the past couple of years, and, in a recent poll, 67 percent of homeowners said they wanted an outdoor fire pit to keep parties going as the night air gets nippy.

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 and pets, and friends safe.

1. Fire Pit Clearance

How far does a fire pit have to be away from the house?

Before striking the match, never place a pit closer than 10 feet from anything flammable, including your house and overhead tree branches.

Unless the owner’s manual says it’s okay, don’t put the pit on a grassy surface, wood deck, or enclosed porch.

2. Fire Pit Fuel

Always burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least six months earlier. To keep sparks from flying, make sure logs are no longer than three-quarters of the pit’s diameter.

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.

3. Starting the Flames

Never use lighter fluid, gas, or kerosone to light a fire.

4. Putting Out a Fire Safely

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: 1) Pull the pin; 2) Aim at the base of the fire; 3) Squeeze the trigger slowly; 4) 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.