Fire pits are a practical, fun, and nice-looking addition to any backyard, but if they are not used properly, there is the potential for them to be dangerous fire hazards. The good news is that backyard fires caused by fire pits are preventable as long as you use them safely and put the fire out properly. You can also follow residential fire pit regulations.
How to put out a fire pit fire safely and properly?
- Allow the firewood to burn down to ash.
- Carefully pour water over the ashes to cool them down.
- Mix the ashes to distribute the water and to continue to cool them down.
- Once they are cool, dispose of the ashes in a metal bucket until you are positive that they are no longer burning or warm.
In 2017, emergency rooms reported that at least 5,300 injuries related to fire pits or outdoor heaters were treated at emergency rooms across the United States, which is nearly three times the number of injuries reported just eight years before. (source)
In this post, I will not only teach you how to put out your fire pit’s fire safely, but I will also go over the basic safety practices that will keep you and your family safe.
How to Put Out a Wood Burning Fire Pit Fire
First of all, let’s talk about the best way to put out a fire in a wood burning fire pit. After a successful evening spent outside beside your wood burning fire pit, it has now come time to put out the fire so that you can go to bed knowing that your backyard is safe and sound.
Putting out the fire in your fire pit completely is essential to ensuring that you do not have an accidental backyard fire and that you, your family, and your property stay safe and undamaged. It takes a little extra effort to ensure it is done right, but it is well worth it.
Materials Needed to Put Out a Wood Burning Fire Pit Fire
To put out the fire in a wood burning fire pit, you will need a few to have a few supplies ready. It is best to have these ready to go before you start the fire so that you do not have to leave the fire to find them.
- A large bucket of water
- A metal shovel
- Metal bucket for ashes
- A hose and spigot to fill the water bucket (optional)
Step by Step Instruction for Putting out the Fire in a Wood Burning Fire Pit
- Before you can put out the fire, it is best to allow the wood to burn down to ash. Do not start a fire in your fire pit with more wood than you can burn in a reasonable amount of time. The fire pit will continue to put out warmth even after the logs of turned to ash, so you do not need to keep a fire roaring.
- Spread the ashes out in the fire pit. Spreading out the ashes will allow them to cool faster.
- Pour water slowly, carefully over the ashes. Steam will come off ashes as you pour so you should pour from a good distance away from the ash to avoid getting hurt from the steam. The ashes will make a sizzling sound. This is normal and expected.
- Be sure to pour water over all of the ashes and not just the ashes that look hot. All the ashes, regardless of the way they look, are hot and need to be cooled. Keep pouring until the sizzling has stopped, and you believe all the ashes have been extinguished.
- Stir the ashes with your shovel to ensure that they have all gotten wet and are extinguished.
- Hold your hand above the ashes without touching them to check and see if they are putting off any heat. If they are warm, you should add more water and stir again until the ashes are no longer warm. If you have time, you can also wait for them to cool.
- Inspect the areas around the fire pit to make sure no embers or hot ash left the fire pit. Inspecting the surrounding area is important because even a bit of hot ash can cause a fire in the right conditions.
- Once the ashes are completely cooled, you can scoop them up and put them into a metal bucket for a few days to ensure that they are truly extinguished and not going to start a dangerous fire in your backyard.
- After a few days, you can add the ashes to your compost where they will help make nutrient rich soil.
Extra Tips for Putting out a Fire in a Wood Burning Fire Pit
Your safety and the safety of those enjoying your fire pit are of the utmost importance. So here are some safety tips to always keep in mind:
- Preparing to put out the fire starts well before you’re ready to extinguish the fire. Gather your materials for putting out the fire before you start the fire.
- Do not feed too much wood to the fire or add logs late into the evening unless you’re prepared to sit up with the fire half the night.
- The ash will continue to be hot well after the logs have burned down. If you’re using the fire for warmth, you do not necessarily need to use more logs to get it.
- Do not use gasoline, lighter fluid, or kerosene to start a fire. These fuels can cause a fire to get out of control quickly. They will also run off out of the fire pit when you douse the ashes with water.
- Do not leave ashes sitting your fire pit as they can cause your fire pit to rust.
What About a Gas Fire Pit
Putting out a fire in a gas fire pit is much more simple. All you have to do is turn it off. However, if you have glass or rocks placed around the fire, then you will also need to make sure these cool down before you put the cover back.
Most of the materials used with gas fires will not take very long to cool down, but you will need to wait until they are cool to the touch. Test first by allowing your hand to hover over the glass or stones. If they are putting off heat, it is best to wait to put the cover on.
This is more to prevent your cover from becoming damaged by the heat than because of a fire hazard. Generally speaking and setting aside complications like gas leaks, gas fire pits are very safe and easy to use.
Fire Pit Safety Tips
Making sure you put out the fire in your fire pit safely and properly is one of the most important safety precautions you can take when you have a backyard fire pit, but there is more to operating your fire pit safely.
Operating a fire pit safely begins before you even kindle your first flame. In this section, I will go over everything you need to know to enjoy your fire pit safely.
Selecting a Location for Your Fire Pit
Selecting the right location for your fire pit will go a long way to ensuring that you and your property will be safe when using a fire pit.
- Always check with the local authorities to make sure you are observing the law. Some areas do not allow the use of backyard fire pits while others may require that you follow certain rules.
- The fire pit should be at least 10-20 feet away from any outdoor structures, your home, surrounding plants, and low hanging trees.
- Do not place or build your fire pit on unlevel ground. If the ground beneath your fire pit is not level, it could tip, and log could potentially roll away from the pit. Clearly, not a good idea.
- Always have your fire pit on a non-flammable surface, like an open patio, blocks, or concrete.
- Do not use a fire pit on a deck made of wood or near dry grass.
- Do not place a fire pit within an enclosure or under anything that has an overhang or roof. This means you cannot put a firepit under a pavilion, a gazebo, or a pergola.
Safest Materials to Burn in a Fire Pit
Wood is always going to be the best thing to burn in a fire pit because this is what they are designed to burn, but of course, you can’t just burn any old wood. The best wood to burn is going to be a hardwood like oak, sycamore, and maple that has been seasoned for six months, if not longer.
Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and allowed to dry over time. If you do not allow the wood to season, it will still retain too much moisture to ignite easily or burn well, and when you burn it, it will create a lot of smoke. When seasoning firewood, it is important to store and stack the wood properly so that is doesn’t get moldy or rot.
Avoid using softwoods as they will produce sparks. If you would like to use a softwood, use a screen to help keep the sparks from escaping the fire pit.
Firewood should be no longer than three quarters the diameter of the pit.
Material You Should Never Burn in a Fire Pit:
- Plywood, composite woods, and pressure-treated woods will release toxic fumes when burned.
- Plastic will make a mess of your fire pit, and it also releases unpleasant, toxic fumes.
- Accelerants like lighter fluid or gasoline can cause an unsafe situation, and if you use water to cool the ashes, will run off into the area surrounding your fire pit, creating another unsafe situation.
- Do not use river stones in your fire pit as high temperatures can cause them to explode.
Once You are Up and Burning: 11 Safety Tips for Using Your Fire Pit
Once you start your fire, there are yet more safety guidelines you should take into consideration so that you can enjoy the fire in your fire pit without stress or worry.
- Once you start a fire in a fire pit, never leave it unattended when there is a fire or hot ash in it.
- If you are entertaining around kids or pets, make sure you keep a close eye on them. If they are not being safe around the fire pit, you will need to have them play in a different area or put out your fire.
- A fire pit screen is a great investment for helping make your fire pit safer. A screen will help keep ashes and embers from leaving the fire pit. A fire pit screen is especially important if you like to burn softwoods like cedar.
- Have a bucket of water, sand, or a garden hose close by so that you can put out any embers that may ignite nearby. If you plan to use a hose to put out any smoldering embers, use a nozzle that has a spray setting. A direct stream of water can cause more harm than good by spreading sparks.
- Keep a pair of fire gloves nearby.
- Invest in heavy outside chairs or stationary outdoor furniture. This type of furniture will prevent your guests from moving too close to the fire.
- Position the chairs so that people can rise and move about with the risk of falling into the fire.
- A fire blanket can help put out sparks or in the worst-case scenario, save someone whose clothes have caught on fire.
- Always have a fully charged, dry-chemical fire extinguisher close by with a Class B and C or multipurpose rating. It is not enough to have the extinguisher close by, learn how to use it as well.
- Never use your fire put when there is significant wind. Ideally, you would want to pick a day where the wind is under 15 mph. If you notice the trees swaying in the wind, it is probably too windy.
- Keep a first aid kit in an easy to access location.
Gas Fire Pit Safety
Generally speaking, all of the guidelines that apply to a wood burning fire pit will also apply to a gas fire pit, but there are some special safety considerations when using a gas fire pit.
- If you are hooking your fire pit into your main gas supply, the piping assembly should be installed by a qualified installer or gas supplier, and they can connect the fire pit to the gas supply.
- Portable gas fire pits are not meant for use inside of homes or enclosed spaces.
- A gas fire pit should never be installed near a power source, under power cables, or over your utility lines.
- The main concern with gas fire pits that you don’t have to worry about when using a wood burning fire pit is a gas leak. If you even think that you smell gas, do not light the fire pit.
- Be sure to have your gas system check and maintenance provided at the intervals recommended by your gas provider.
- If your gas fire pit is connected to a propane tank, be sure to inspect the tank and rest of the system regularly to make sure there is not a leak.
Dealing with Propane or Natural Gas
While you do not have to deal with splitting firewood when you have a gas fire pit, you still need to make sure you provide fuel to your gas fire pit. Fire pits usually use either propane or natural gas to fuel their fires.
Gas fire pits cannot use natural gas and propane interchangeably. A natural gas burner must supply more gas flow to achieve the same flame as a propane one.
Natural gas is a naturally odorless gas that is mostly composed of methane gas. The smell of gas is added later, enabling you to detect a leak.
If you use a natural gas fire pit, it will need to be attached to your home’s gas lines because natural gas cannot be stored in tanks. If you want to use natural gas, then you will need to have your gas fire pit professional connected to your homes gas lines.
Although it can increase the cost of installing the fire pit, using a natural gas fire pit is very convenient as you will never run out of gas and have to make a last-minute run to fuel up a tank.
Natural gas is safer than propane because it is less dense than air, which means it rises when released from its tank.
Propane is liquified petroleum gas that turns back into a gas as soon as it is released from its tank. Most fire pits require a standard 20-pound tank. Propane can be purchased in tanks of various sizes, and propane fire pits do not require special installation and work much like a gas grill.
Propane is generally safe to use, which is why it is commonly found around many homes, but it is not as safe as natural gas. First of all, in addition to needing to ensure the lines are not leaking you also must properly store the tank, and any backup tanks you keep handy.
Additionally, unlike natural gas, propane is denser than air. It will sink when it is released which can be problematic if there is a leak and tanks are not stored in a well-ventilated area.
Propane must be stored outside in well-ventilated areas in temperatures that do not dip below -40 degrees Fahrenheit or above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. They should never be stored inside of your home or a shed.
With both of these methods of fueling a gas fire pit, if a sufficient amount of fuel leaks from the system, it poses a significant fire hazard.
Gas Fire Pit Safety versus Wood Fire Pit: Which is Better and Safer?
When it comes down to it, gas fire pits and wood fire pits offer very different experiences, and which one you prefer will depend on the kind of experience you are looking to have.
A gas fire pit offers the ambiance and warmth of a flame with the flip of a switch. It does not produce smoke or sparks the way a wood burning fire does.
However, a wood burning fire pit will create hotter flames that you can cook over, which is not a recommended activity for most gas fire pits. Wood also offers that rustic campfire feel that cannot be replicated with a gas flame. If you have free access to firewood, it is also cheaper than gas.
When deciding between a wood burning fire pit and a gas fire pit, you should consider the air quality of the area you live in and the needs of your family and friends who will be frequenting your fire pit. Gas fire pits do not produce smoke the way wood burning fires do.
If you live in an area that already has poor air quality, breathing in wood smoke can be irritating and harmful, especially for people with respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema, or COPD.
These fine wood particles also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and linked to premature deaths in those already suffering from chronic heart and lung diseases. The EPA suggests that people with congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, or asthma should stay away from wood smoke in general. (source)
If you live in a deep valley where air circulation is poor, you should avoid lighting a wood burning fire when there are smog alerts or when the air quality is poor.
If you live in an area that is prone to having forest fires or uncontrollable wildfires, you will need to take this into account when selecting your fire pit.
The truth is, in many areas, your backyard fire pit is capable of sparking a forest fire. Most communities that have a significant amount of woodland or that are prone to wildfires will institute seasonal burn bans. Check with your local authorities about whether or not there is currently a burn ban before using your fire pit.
Wood burning fires are more likely to cause an accidental backyard fire than gas fire pits because they can spark. They also create hot embers and ash that must be handled carefully to prevent them from reigniting and causing a fire. Gas burning fire pits, on the other hand, turn off with the flip of a switch.
Ease of Use
Even though man has been lighting fires for thousands of years, it is not something we are born knowing how to do, and many people do not know how to start a fire.
A gas fire pit is much easier to turn on an off. It only takes the flip of a switch or turning a dial. If you want your fire pit to be easy to you use, then a gas fire pit is the way to go.
Starting your own fire in a wood burning fire pit is not difficult, but it is a skill that must be learned, and safety precautions must be followed to prevent fire damage or injuries.
So, which is better?
A gas fire pit is typically a better choice unless you are going for a specific aesthetic or experience or you need your fire pit to provide a substantial amount of heat.
Gas fire pits are:
- Easier to use
- Less likely to cause a forest fire
- Do not impact air quality significantly
- Often have adjustable heat settings
It is always fun and games if you use your fire pits properly and safely. Whether you are going to use a wood burning fire pit or a gas fire pit, both require due diligence to keep you and your family safe. It’s always better to be prepared and take preventative steps when you can.
If you are going with the wood burning option, know the laws where you live, and pay attention to burn ban announcements. Most importantly, when you are finished enjoying the fire, make sure the fire is completely extinguished.
To completely extinguish your fire, you will need to douse the fire with plenty of water, continue to check on the ashes to make sure they are not still generating heat, and safely dispose of the ashes once they are cooled.
If you decide a gas fire pit is a better option for your needs, then your fire will be extinguished with the flick of your finger, but you will have to be careful and stay alert for any signs of a gas leak. If you even think you smell gas, don’t start the fire. Always store your propane tank outside in areas with proper ventilation.