Many families and friends have enjoyed some of the best moments while sitting around the campfire. Singing songs, telling stories, and roasting marshmallows can create memories that last a lifetime.
However, one small oversight can cause a warm, cozy fire to become the trigger for a devastating housefire or forest fire, which can seriously threaten human and pet lives, our forests, and creatures living in nature. A properly managed fire causes no problems, whether in a rugged, camp-style fire pit or a stylish backyard version. Learn the following methods for how to put out a wood-burning fire pit so that you and your friends can safely enjoy the warmth, beauty, and good times around the fire.
How to Put Out a Fire Pit – 6 Steps
1. Let the fire burn down completely, if possible until all of the remaining chunks of wood have burned to ash. When putting out a fire, stop adding any more wood or fuel to your fire about one hour before you plan on leaving, and allow the fire to burn itself out. You can always use a stick or other appropriate tool to remove any unburned wood to speed up the process.
2. Use a shovel or stick to spread out the remaining coals or wood. The fire holds in much less heat if the pieces of wood are not touching each other, helping it go out faster. Keep an eye out for any small, burning embers, and turn over large pieces of wood. These might look unburnt on the outside but may have red-hot embers burning inside.
3. Douse the fire with water. Very carefully, hold the water container very high above the fire while pouring. As the water hits the fire, it will generate a lot of hot steam, which could cause a steam burn on your hands, arms, or face if you’re not careful. Take care to cover all of the ashes with water, not just the burning embers. Listen for any remaining sizzling sounds, and wait until you no longer hear any sizzle at all.
4. Make sure that every part of the fire pit gets saturated with water. Use a stick or shovel to stir up the ashes and inspect the area around the fire pit for any embers that might have escaped.
5. Check the broader area around the fire pit for loose embers. In windy or breezy conditions, embers can pop out of the fire and float several yards away. Especially at campsites, check tents, blankets, and surrounding trees and shrubs for any evidence of embers. The National Park Service says that almost 85 percent of forest fires are started by humans, so it pays to err on the overly cautious side.
6. Check the temperature of the fire pit and surrounding areas. The fire pit should be cool enough to touch, and the surrounding areas should not feel warm at all. If you detect any signs of heat, use more water to cool the temperature down. In a situation where you don’t have water to douse your fire pit, you can shovel dirt onto the fire. Use the same method of mixing the dirt into the remaining chunks of wood and embers, separating them, until the fire goes out. Always start the process of putting your fire out at least one hour before you leave. If you wait until the last minute, this doesn’t give you the time needed to make sure that the fire is fully extinguished, that the fire pit is cool to touch and that no embers have jumped to the surrounding areas. In dry conditions, whether in your backyard or while out camping, all it takes is some dry leaves or brush and a small ember or spark to start a dangerous and destructive fire.
5 Steps to Safely Light Your Fire Pit
Although it’s a moot point if you don’t know how to start a fire in the first place, fire safety is very important. Following are the five steps you need to get a cozy fire going in your fire pit. Lighter fluid and other chemical fire starters are bad for the environment, potentially dangerous, and bad for humans as well. With some tinder, kindling, dry wood, and matches, you can easily start a nice fire.
1.Gather the firewood to fuel your fire and some tinder and kindling. Tinder is thin, small material such as dry grass, pine needles, or wood shavings that burn quickly and easily, with a lot of open spaces between them. Kindling is the next size up and typically consists of small, very dry twigs, bark such as cedar or fatwood. When your fire starts to wane, keep extra kindling on hand to throw in. Firewood is the actual fuel for the fire. Use kiln-dried wood or wood from dead trees since fresh-cut wood has too much dampness.
2. Build a teepee with your kindling sticks, then lay a bed of tinder underneath it.
3.Strike a match and hold the flame to your tinder until it catches fire. Keep the tinder lit until the flames can start burning up the kindling. If the fire is slow to burn, gently blow on it until the burning pace picks up. Avoid blowing too hard and spreading hot embers around.
4.Add more kindling if needed until you get the fire established. Now you’re ready to add your first, small pieces of firewood to fuel your fire. Lay them on top of the kindling, letting it fall onto your firewood to start the burning.
5.Slowly increase the size of the fire by adding more firewood logs. Keep adding kindling if needed until the larger pieces of firewood ignite. Make sure never to leave your fire pit unattended. It might take a few tries but becomes easier with practice. Knowing how to build a fire without lighter fluid is a good life skill and Scout troops often teach kids the skill of building a fire for this reason.
Increase Your Fire Pit’s Longevity
Back in the day of cavemen and women, fire pits were basically just holes in the ground. They didn’t require much in the way of care or maintenance. Today’s fire pits have come a long way, and you can find them made out of brick, stone, and metal. Some even have glass walls to show off a pretty, blue gas flame. Believe it or not, fire pits are now the second most popular item that people add to their backyards. If you have or plan on buying a fire pit of your own, it pays to understand the ins and outs of its care and safe usage. Be picky about what you burn.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, throwing certain things to burn in the fire pit can cause the release of toxic chemicals and gases, which could affect you and your family while sitting around enjoying the fire. It’s also bad for the environment and could affect the condition and longevity of your fire pit. If you burn plastic, household garbage, or even leaves, the smoke vapor and minute particles of airborne burnt matter can cause irritation and health issues. Residue from plastics and other materials can also adhere to the sides of your fire pit or plug the gas outlet holes. Keep yourself safe by using only dry, locally sourced wood meant for burning. Use only dry firewood. Unless the wood is very fresh or has been sitting outside unprotected in the rain or snow, you will not need to use any lighter fluid. Lighter fluid can damage the finish on your fire pit and can also cause harm, especially if added to a fire that’s already started. Never, ever do this! When using dry wood, all you need is some tinder and kindling to get a roaring fire started. Let your fire burn out naturally. While dousing it with water seems like an immediate and gratifying way to put out the fire, the sudden change can crack your fire pit materials, especially if your fire pit has any glass or ceramic components. Many metals can also warp since fire burns at over 800 degrees, and the cold water temperature is too much to handle. Unless you have an emergency, it’s better to sit out by the fire until it goes out on its own.
Clean your grate after every use. Many people use their fire pits for cooking, and if you let the burned-on food particles remain, your grill will look pretty disgusting over time. Not to mention that you’ll be getting pieces of old, charred food that’s been sitting outside for weeks, cooked into your fresh burgers. Each time you clean your grill, coat it with a bit of cooking oil. The oil helps future debris slide off easily and prevents rust and corrosion from forming.
Keep your fire pit covered when it’s not in use. If you leave your fire pit unprotected, the elements can damage and corrode the structure. Rain can cause rust and erosion, which might actually make your fire pit fall apart over time. Better to be safe than sorry. Remove ashes after using your fire pit. Once the ashes have been cool for 24 hours, use a shovel to move them into a non-flammable, disposable container. Never shovel warm ashes out of the fire pit because a small burning ember could ignite a fire elsewhere without your knowledge, leading to disaster.
Best Practices for Fire Pit Safety
Fire pits can be a central feature for fun backyard parties and weekend camping trips, but safety needs to be a priority at all times.
The following list of reminders will help you make sure you’ve got all the bases covered.
- Keep your fire pit at least 20 to 30 feet away from all other structures
- Do not add too much fuel to your fire pit to prevent any sudden flare-ups
- Locate your fire pit on a flat surface and never under trees, patio covers, roofs, or anything else that could catch fire.
- Always check your local weather for windy conditions. Winds can blow embers out of the fire and into the dry brush, leaves, and other materials that easily ignite.
- Check to make sure that no burn bans are currently being enforced in your area
- Remove any dried vegetation, leaves, woodpiles, or other combustible items within a 20-to-30 foot range of your fire pit.
- Use a screen to keep sparks and embers contained in your fire pit, especially if you have pets or children playing close by.
- Always keep a working hose, bucket of water, or fire extinguisher nearby so that you can act quickly if any problems arise. – Keep all flammable liquids far away from the heat of the fire. These items can combust from the heat, even if they have no contact with flames or embers.
- Learn how to start your fires using tinder and kindling so that you don’t need to use liquid fire starters. This minimizes the risk of dangerous flare-ups that can spread flames or embers outside of your fire pit.
- Use a poker, shovel, long tongs, or a stick to move logs and ashes around in the fire pit to prevent injuries from the fire, sparks, or burning remaining chunks of wood.
- Keep a first-aid kit handy nearby
- Never, ever leave your fire pit unattended.
- Call 911 immediately if the fire escapes your fire pit. Fire spreads at a rapid rate, especially with any plant matter or structures nearby.
- Avoid using river rocks to build a fire pit. While they might be readily available and look nice, these rocks could have moisture in them. When they heat up, the moisture inside can cause the stones to explode. This explosion could injure anyone sitting around the fire and send burning embers and sparks onto combustible materials, starting a larger fire. If you use rocks, make sure that they come from dry areas in your immediate vicinity.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We have discussed a lot of details about fire safety and proper management of a wood-burning fire pit. To summarize, three common questions come up all the time, so here are some quick answers.
1. Can you put out a fire pit with water?
When faced with the situation of how to put out a fire pit, it’s best not to use water to put out a fire pit. If you are using a backyard fire pit, the temperature difference between an 800-degree fire and 60-degree water can cause your fire pit to crack, warp, or break. If you are at a campsite, this might not be an issue. However, pouring water on fire can also create a lot of smoke, making it difficult to see if any burning embers remain. Walking away after dousing the fire with water could lead to some embers continuing to burn, igniting other materials, and causing a devastating forest fire. It’s safer to enjoy your last s’mores while waiting for the fire to extinguish itself.
2. Can you leave a fire pit burning overnight?
Please do not ever leave a fire pit burning overnight. The only safe time to burn a fire is when someone is awake and actively tending to the fire. Leaving a fire unattended, even for a short time, could result in sparks or embers from the fire coming into contact with other materials nearby. This could easily start a fire outside of the fire pit, with devastating results.
3. Can I put a fire pit in my backyard?
Many states and cities place restrictions on the use of a backyard fire pit. Rural areas or states with very dry weather make for perfect forest-fire burning conditions. Additionally, some areas restrict the use of backyard fire pits during periods of poor air quality. If you can have a wood-burning fire pit, you will likely need to follow some safety guidelines to ensure that you keep your family and property safe.
These guidelines are typically such as the following:
- Local ordinances that determine the distance you must keep between a fire pit and other structures, usually about 20 to 30 feet.
- Certain size and location limitations for fires designated as “recreational.”
- Rules or guidelines that cover the legality of open burning in your area.
- Which types of fires require you to obtain a permit from the proper authorities.