This site is about fun and helping you create a relaxing spot for family and friends to socialize, bond, and enjoy each other’s company.
However, I’d be falling down on the job if I didn’t tackle backyard fire pit safety early on.
With a healthy respect for what fire is capable of and a few precautions, regular safe use of your fire pit will become routine and a memorable part of your family’s leisure time at home and elsewhere. Proper fire pit placement is part of that.
Choosing the right location for your fire pit may be the most important safety decision you can make. Murphy (as in Murphy’s Law) is always on the lookout to cause mayhem – don’t give him the chance.
Take your time and ensure you pick the best spot for your fire pit, with safety, not convenience or aesthetics, being your guide. It’s not news that fire is unpredictable, so ensuring that your fire pit is in the right spot from the beginning, can minimize the risk of serious injury, property damage, and fines.
For this article, the discussion is directed mostly at portable wood burning fire pits but the advice is still relevant to the placement of a fire pit that will be in a permanent fixed location.
Before beginning, check local laws regarding the legal use of fire pits in your municipality. Consult with your homeowner’s association (HOA), if you have one, regarding residential fire pit use in your neighborhood once you are familiar with local laws.
So…how do you choose the best location for your backyard fire pit? Fire pits should be placed on a level surface, no less than ten feet away from any structure, 20-25 feet or more is best, in a wide-open space, away from trees with low hanging limbs, woodpiles, bushes, and other materials that could ignite if contact with a flame is made. Paved surfaces are ideal, but placement on wood or composite decks and grass are options if fireproof barriers and other precautions are utilized.
According to an NBC article from June 2018, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that the number of fire pit related injuries in the U.S. has tripled in the last ten years to 5,300, with a quarter of these injuries in children.
This rise in injuries is attributed to the recent increase in the popularity of fire pits. Fire pits can be a very positive and special component of your family’s time outdoors as long as the risks are understood and adequate time is taken to consider proper placement and other safety factors.
Fire Pit Distance From House
Fire pit placement distance away from the home should be at least 10 feet. This number is based on a generally accepted number common in local fire codes (verify). Check your local fire codes or contact your local fire department for guidelines specific to your area.
Due to the inherent dangers of fire, particularly with regard to wind, dry periods, fuel availability, and a host of other factors, using a number higher than 10 feet is highly encouraged when choosing a spot for your fire pit.
Most sources I’ve found, recommend fire pit placement at 20 to 25 feet or more from the home, structures, and other fuel sources such as trees and their limbs, shrubs and bushes, firewood, etc.
The idea is to create enough standoff between the fire pit and anything in the immediate area that is capable of catching fire. That 20 to 25 feet buffer around the perimeter of the fire pit provides that necessary standoff.
Fire Pit Distance From Trees
As a rule of thumb, it’s not wise to place an open flame under anything you don’t want to set fire to. Common recommendations I’ve found when selecting a sport for fire pits near trees involve trimming the branches back creating a distance of between ten and 15 feet from the tree, and any of its branches, to the fire pit, to minimize the risk of ignition.
I personally don’t think it’s worth the fire risk and the amount of continuous work trimming branches back. In the end, you can place a fire pit under or near a tree, but you will need to be vigilant with regard to the size of your fire and its proximity to low-hanging tree branches.
Fire Pit Overhead Distance Under Covered Patios
First, if you are considering placing a fire pit under a covered patio using a gazebo, pergola, or other structure, a propane gas option is going to be your best bet.
Some wood-burning fire pits produce a considerable amount of heat, smoke, and sparks, which over time, can collectively damage and/or discolor the structure providing overhead cover for the fire pit, not to mention the potential of immediate fire risk.
It’s difficult to get fire pit smoke to go where you want it to without the use of a chimney, so you’ll want a fire pit that has lower emissions of smoke, soot, etc. and that’s where the propane fire pit comes in.
If you go forward with a propane fire pit placement under a covered patio, you will still have to take the height of the overhead cover and its distance from the fire pit into consideration.
The potential fire hazard of an overhead that is too low, along with the long term effects of heat from the fire pit will have an impact on the structure’s integrity. Having your structure’s height set properly will minimize this risk by providing enough clearance for heat to dissipate.
Consult with local authorities and/or licensed contractors on building/fire code as well as your homeowner’s association (HOA) in the beginning stages of any project. Do your due diligence and make sure you are in compliance from the word go.
Fire Pits on a Wood or Composite Deck
If you are looking to enjoy a new fire pit on an existing outdoor deck consisting of wood or composite decking such as Trex, Fiberon, TimberTech, etc., it can be done, but you will have to take some steps to safeguard the deck’s structural integrity and finish when choosing a location like this.
In keeping with prior recommendations related to fire pit distance from structures, maintain the 20 to 25 feet distance from the fire pit and your home or any other building nearby when using it on decking of any type.
Also, in keeping with prior guidance, ensure the surrounding area is clear of unintended fuel sources that could ignite due to their close proximity to the fire pit. Pay particular attention to dry leaves, pine needles, and other natural debris that might find its way onto your deck during the course of a year.
To protect your deck from the intense heat generated, you will need to put a barrier between the fire pit and the deck surface. To save money, use extra concrete pavers you may have around the home from a prior project and slide them together in a grid configuration to create a temporary DIY fire pit safety base.
Commercially available options include pre-fab barrier kits using pavers, steel heat shields, and fire pit pads. The bottom line is, don’t ever put your fire pit directly on your wood or composite deck.
Again, check your local fire codes and HOA covenants before using a fire pit on your deck.
For more on using fire pits on a backyard deck, check out my article The Ultimate Guide To Using a Fire Pit On Decking.
Using Fire Pits on Grass
Using the recommended safe distances from structures mentioned prior, you can use a fire pit on grass as long as the terrain is level. In preparation for using a fire pit on grass clear the area of unintended fuel sources such as dried leaves, grass, and other flammable debris.
As with the wood and composite decked surfaces, you’ll want to use a temporary barrier between your fire pit and the grass surface. Paving stone arranged in a grid configuration is a good option here as well, as are commercially available fire pit safety base options mentioned above in the “Fire Pits on a Wood or Composite Deck” section.
Be sure to remove the paving stones as soon as it is safe to do so to allow the covered spot to bounce back from being covered and under pressure.
The steel heat shield mentioned above could be a good choice here as it has four supports that keep the shield off the ground, allowing airflow and eliminating pressure on the grass.
Be sure to apply water to the grass in the immediate vicinity of the fire pit to protect it from the heat radiating from the fire pit. You’re not soaking the area, just applying enough to keep the grass damp.
Take a look at my article Fire Pits on Grass: How to Keep Your Lawn From Feeling the Burn for more tips on safely using a fire pit on grass.
Some Final Tips on Fire Pit Placement and Safety
- Never leave any fire pit unattended
- Maintain very close supervision of children and pets in the vicinity of fire pits
- Moderate your personal alcohol consumption when operating a fire pit; everyone’s safety depends on you being alert and sober enough to take proper action if and when the situation dictates
- Have a water hose, water bucket, or fire extinguisher within arm’s reach of your location near a fire pit
- For wood-burning fire pits: do not use lighter fluid, gasoline, or any other petroleum-based fuel to start a fire in a fire pit; consider using a fire pit screen to contain sparks; utilize log grabbers to add and reposition logs in fire pits; when done using the fire pit, extinguish fire with water and stir contents until ash is saturated
For much more on the topic of fire pit safety, check out my article Fire Pit Safety 101: A Primer.
Thanks for reading!
What type of wood is best for fire pit use?
Go for hardwoods like birch, oak, maple, and beech and make sure it’s seasoned, meaning split and dried for anywhere from 6 months to 3 years depending on the type of wood.
What model fire extinguisher would be best for fire pit safety use?
I would recommend the Amerex B500 or the First Alert PRO5. Either would be more than sufficient should the need arise. Also, these models are a good choice for an all-around home fire extinguisher. Both are all steel, rechargeable, UL certified, and exceed the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
I give the edge to Amerex based on the fact that fire suppression, particularly in the defense, aviation, and industrial space, is their bread and butter and they’ve been at it longer than First Alert.
At what distance should people be seated when around a fire pit?
Seating around a fire pit should be anywhere between 5 to 7 feet. In addition, other items such as coolers, firewood, handbags, etc. should be outside this distance as well. The size of your fire pit should be a factor when determining where in this range seating will be arranged.
The idea is to have a safety “buffer zone” around the fire pit to minimize tripping hazards, the risk of items catching fire, and potential burns from sparks or debris falling from the fire pit. Maintaining this distance range can also reduce direct exposure to smoke in the immediate vicinity of the fire pit.
Local code may have bearing on where you are able to position fixed seating should you go that route.