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Are Backyard Fire Pits Legal?

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Most people enjoy a nice bonfire or tasty meal prepared over a wood fire. When building a fire or placing your fire pit, you must make sure you aren’t in violation of any fire laws.

You may also be wondering whether you are allowed to have a backyard fire pit. So, are backyard fire pits legal?

Yes. Backyard fire pits are legal as long as they follow the laws and regulations set up by the county they are in. You can even take portable fire pits to campsites or be permitted to build them there. As long as you learn the basic rules to have a backyard fire pit you will be fine.

When building a fire in your backyard or at a campsite by using a fire pit, most people don’t know the rules or regulations in their city or town. Each town has its own set of rules regarding recreational fires, but most follow similar safety guidelines and laws.

These laws and burn bans are both put into place for the safety of everyone in the area. To make sure your next recreational fire complies with state, county, and federal law follow the guidelines within this article.

Common Backyard Fire Pits Laws and Regulations

It’s important to note that most 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. 

Not all regulations for fire safety are based on being a respectful neighbor. A majority of laws exist so you can avoid setting your home ablaze or putting dangerous chemicals into the air.

Here are some standard fire safety regulations regarding backyard recreational fires:

  • Your fire must be a safe distance from any combustible surfaces. This law means the fire must be twenty-five feet from your house, shed, vehicles, or decks. 
  • If your backyard contains a lot of trees, then you will need to make sure no branches are hanging over your fire as well.
  • A big concern for recreational fires taking place within a neighborhood is how it affects your neighbors. You’ll need to make sure your fire is at least 10 ft. from the property line.
  • Wind conditions pose a significant threat to the safety of a neighborhood when someone has a fire going. Any wind conditions over 15 miles per hour, you are not allowed to light your backyard fire pit.
  • Fires should not be built taller than three feet high and three feet wide. More towering fires pose a fire safety threat.
  • All fires must be attended and supervised by an adult the entire time they are burning. That means even if you are 25 ft away working on a project in your garage, you are still violating fire safety regulations.

Fire Pit Mats

What You Can and Can’t Burn

Smoke, chemicals, and poisonous gases are not only offensive; they are dangerous to those sitting near the fire, people in the vicinity, and the wildlife in the area. Seemingly safe burning materials can pose a health hazard to the entire city or even be illegal to burn. 

When you are unsure of what you can burn, check out your county policy on what’s acceptable burning material.

Here is a list of common materials people burn that is toxic or emits excessive smoke to burn:

  • Paper– As much as you may want the added security that comes from burning personal documents and sensitive paperwork this is prohibited. Burning paper causes too much unnecessary smoke, and since it is treated releases unhealthy chemicals into the air. 
  • Cardboard– Cardboard creates offensive smoke. It can also result in a surge in the fire that is dangerous to those sitting nearby.
  • Particleboard– Cheap furniture is usually made of particleboard. Particleboard is held together by adhesives that emit toxic gasses when burned.
  • Wooden Pallets– Wooden pallets should not be used to fuel a fire pit. Some pallets are treated with a chemical called methyl bromide. Methyl bromide can be released into the air once the wooden pallets burns. 
  • Magazines– Ads, newsletters, magazine, and colored gift wrapping paper are all made with ink, which can release fumes when burned that are toxic for those in the area to breathe in. 
  • Plastic– Burning plastic releases toxic chemicals into the air that are bad for people, especially young children.
  • Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac– Getting rid of these plants from your yard via bonfire is dangerous. The irritant oil in Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac plants release fumes into the air. These fumes cause severe lung irritation and allergic responses for some people.
  • Trash-Trash is one of the worst materials to burn in your neighborhood. Burning of trash releases toxins into the air and produces excessive smoke. It is illegal to burn trash. 
  • Pressure Treated or Painted Wood– Do not burn wood that’s pressure treated or been painted. Burning pressure treated wood is dangerous and the smoke is toxic to inhale. Painted wood t may give off toxic fumes as well, especially lead-based paints.
  • Green Leafy Branches– The moisture in branches and plant life that still is green does not make for suitable firewood. They cause excessive smoke that will fill up your yard and your neighbor’s yard quickly.

The wildlife often gets the brunt of toxic chemical and smoke caused by careless fire builders. Excessive smoke can kill off the small bird and force small mammals out of their homes. The poisonous fumes infect the environment and enter into the water supply that various creatures drink from.

Does your fire pit whistle?

What You Can Burn

In most counties, the only firewood that is acceptable to burn is clean, dry wood that has been split. Here are a few examples of firewood that is acceptable and safe to burn:

Oak

Oak produces significant heat while also burning slow and steady. Oak is one of the most readily available firewood, so it is easy for campers and bonfire enthusiast to find and use.

Hickory

Hickory firewood burns hotter than the oak maple, and other popular hardwoods hickory is dense what that could be tough to split. Hickory does not hold onto moisture and burns very well. The most notable trait of Hickory is the taste it has when used to grill food.

Ash

Ashwood is a prime choice for firewood. It burns easier retains less moisture and doesn’t produce as much smoke like other firewoods that are available today. These characteristics make it perfect to use for a campfire or a bonfire.

Cedar

Cedar produces prime heat, making it the perfect choice for firewood on a chilly night. It is misleading, however, because it doesn’t produce especially big flames. Cedar also has a unique aroma that smells amazing when on fire.

Putting Out Your Fire

Coals, embers, and wood can retain heat for hours and hours, even days in the right circumstances. It’s essential to handle the remnants of fire carefully.

Lots of house fires occur when remnants of a fire are prematurely tossed into a trash can or dumpster. They melt through the trash can and the siding of homes. They also happen if sparks or embers fly out of the fire pit. You can use different fire pit grill grates to help cover the fire. This also helps you to cook on your fire pit. 

You will want to leave the ash, coal, and ember out for several days after an intense fire. 

Wind gust can kick a barely smoking fire back into action. So, stir and spread out your coals as best you can and use water, dirt or sand to extinguish any remaining heat. 

You don’t want to bury the coals in the dirt for that will have the opposite effect. Simply alternate between stirring and tossing on the soil until they are no longer red hot.

If you have a water hose available douse your fire with plenty of water when you’re through enjoying it. To be safe keep a bucket of water or your hose at the ready when you are having a bonfire in case of incidents.

Once the fire it completely out, there are several things you can do with the wood ash around your home. So don’t feel like you have to throw it away.

Campfire Rules and Regulations 

Campfires need to be treated with even more care than backyard fires. The wrong move at the wrong time could spark a devastating wildfire.

Negative impacts of Wildfires can include:

  • Can be deadly to people and wildlife
  • Can force rodents into nearby neighborhoods
  • Can emit a colossal amount of greenhouse gases
  • Destroys trees that filter Co2(greenhouse gases)
  • If spread to residents, the fire can destroy homes.
  • Lasting effects on the landscape.

No matter how long you’ve been building campfires, accidents can occur. The effects of campfire accidents can be devastating, which is why it is crucial to follow the law when it comes to campfires.

Before starting your campfire, follow these guidelines:

  • Research park and county rules.
  • Know the fire conditions (windy and dry conditions are prime for wildfires)
  • Make sure there is no burn ban set for your area.

Copper Fire Pits

Kinds of Campfires

Not all campsites allow for the same type of fire. For some, the idea of a campfire is small enough to light up their campsite, while for others, it means a sizeable blazing pile of leaves, sticks, and brush. 

Different campgrounds and parks allow different sizes and types of fires. The kind of bonfire you are familiar with may not be okay in a busy campground full of 

  • Kids
  • RVs
  • Cars
  • Trees

Ask at the visitor center or find a campground official to see if specific areas are meant for campfires and if there are rules on the type of campfire allowed.

If a burn ban has been issued in your area that might mean campfires are banned, or that other special rules or restrictions are in effect. Contact the park when you arrive to find out if there is a burn ban or other weather-related rules you need to know.

Making a Campfire

Before starting a campfire, take a look around you and your campsite. You want to make sure tents, gear, and any other combustible objects are at least 15 feet away from your campfire. You should also make sure nothing is sitting where smoke and sparks are likely to travel.

Kindling and wood should be purchased near the campground or scavenged from the area. Bringing firewood from far away might bring along pests that will flee your burning wood and invade their new environment.

Children and pets should be supervised when in the vicinity of any fire. Teach children safety precautions regarding fire and how to react if any of their clothing happen to catch on fire( stop, drop, and roll).

Never leave a fire pit, bonfire, or campfire unattended. Wind or stray particles could cause a wildfire quickly under the right circumstances. If your campfire gets out of control, call 911 for assistance. You can also contact the nearest park ranger or campground official to help you report the fire.

Burn Bans

There are two types of burn bans, one regarding air-quality and wildfire safety. Both are a mandatory and temporary restriction on the use of wood stoves, fireplaces, and outdoor burning.

Warm, dry weather could result in government officials imposing a mandatory burn ban to ensure both fire safety and air quality. Air-quality burn bans are usually set and enforced during fall and winter. These burn bans may last up to a week or longer. 

The smoke from burning wood and wood-based products contains fine particles called soot. Soot is a toxic mix of other carcinogens, which are particularly harmful to the health of young children, older adults, and people with respiratory and heart problems. 

When there is no wind, concentrations of wood smoke become stagnant. Stagnant smoke can reach harmful levels, so to protect air quality, fires during this kind of circumstance is prohibited. However, depending on the area and current regulations, gas fire pit tables may be used during burn bans since that emit no smoke. 

Burn Ban Stages

Following state burn ban requirements include the following two stages:

Stage 1 Burn Bans 

Stage 1 Burn Bans are set based on weather conditions or rising pollution levels.

Stage 1 Burn bans mean:

  • Burning for wood-burning fireplaces and uncertified fireplace or woodstoves are banned.
  • Fireplace inserts are forbidden during this time as well unless this is your only substantial source of heat.
  • If you’re using a certified device or if the fireplace is your only source of heat, you still cannot generate visible smoke. You can tell if your wood-burning device is certified based on the label on the back of your wood stove and the one on top of your fireplace insert. It should indicate that it complies with U.S. E.P.A. emission standards.
  • All outdoor fires are prohibited during burn bans which include woodfires and charcoal recreational fires.

Stage 2 Burn Bans

Stage 2 Burn Bans are set by state law when fine particle pollution levels reach a certain point or when the weather creates conditions that wildfires can more easily spread in, then, the state will enforce the burn bans.

Stage 2 Burn Ban means:

  • No burning is allowed unless this is your only substantial source of heat. 
  • Even if you only burn to heat your home, you still can not generate excessive amounts of smoke. 
  • Wood-burning fireplaces, wood stoves or fireplace inserts whether certified or not are prohibited. 
  • All outdoor burning is prohibited, including wood and charcoal fueled recreational fires.

Burn Ban Fines and Penalties

Property Owners

If inspectors observe a property owner violating the burn ban, they will issue a penalty. Penalty cost for violating the ban can range from $500 up to $15,000.

Manufacturers

If a manufacturer produces and sells wood-burning fireplaces claiming to be certified and meet fire ban regulations, and the product is in violation of the standards, they will be fined per unit built and shipped. 

There are many things to consider and safety precautions to implement to ensure the safety of yourself and others when burning recreational fires. There are laws put into place that vary state by state and county by county. 

In Conclusion

Now you should know the most common laws and regulations regarding recreational fires. Laws do vary county by county so stay up to date on the policy in your area. 

There is nothing wrong with having some fun sitting around the bonfire, but when doing so, here are some important points to remember:

  • A fire pit must be placed at least 25 ft. away from any inflammable material such as your home, deck, sheds, cars, and trees.
  • A fire should be at least 10 ft away from your property line.
  • Fires pose to be dangerous when people are careless or burn toxic material on them.
  • Fires can be nuances to a neighborhood when they aren’t fueled by clean, dry wood and therefore produce excessive amounts of smoke.
  • Fire bans should be taken seriously, and you need to check before starting a fire that your area is not currently under a ban period
  • When camping, you should avoid starting a wildfire by being prepared to extinguish a fire at a moment’s notice.
  • Follow campground safety guidelines regarding campfires while camping.
  • Most importantly, fires need to be supervised at all times.

This article is a guideline to ensure safety but to make sure your fire is in compliance with your county check online or call your local fire department during their business hours if you have any questions. 

Have fun whether you are enjoying your backyard fire pit with ring or a campground cookout, but also remember to be safe and follow the law!

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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8 Comments

  1. Hi. Sorry with all the information I was unable to determine If I can have a backyard fire. I live in Halifax and have a little iron fire pot. Am I able to have a fire tomorrow night in my backyard fire pot?

    Thanks

    Dave

    1. Yes, if it’s contained and 25 feet from any structures, it should be fine. Usually, just double check with local laws in case a burn ban is in effect. Thanks!

      1. Hello Cristina,
        What if you have a bonfire right next to the fence and that’s space left from each neighbor is about the width of a car.

        1. Hey Roger, that would make me nervous. Most municipalities call for at least 25 feet clearance from anything: shed, fence, neighbors.

  2. I live in south LA and I can’t find any information on being able to have a fire pit. Is there any website that provides this info.

    1. Hi, thanks for the question. As long as you verify your area doesn’t have a burn ban and you remove any grass or anything that will catch fire around a 2-3 foot perimeter of the hole, you should be fine.

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