Nobody wants to think about the end of the party and how to put out a backyard fire pit, but having a plan when the time comes is pretty important from a safety and convenience standpoint.
There are a variety of ways to get the job done that ensures that fire is out, and the safety of your friends and family, and your property are taken care of.
Regardless of how you do it, putting your fire pit to bed properly after the fun is over is a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In another article I wrote about fire pit placement I reported that injuries related to fire pits are up three-fold in the last 10 years, with a quarter of these injuries in children, often hours after the fire pit was “put out.”
Knowing how to put out a fire in a fire pit the right way, the first time, will serve you time and again when the party winds down and you have better things to do, like seeing your guests off, cleaning up, getting to bed, etc.
Methods for putting out a fire in a wood-burning fire pit include the following four options:
- Let the fire burn out on its own
- Once the fire has died down, soak the remaining firewood, embers, and ash with water, then stir the resulting slurry until the fire pit contents are saturated
- Like water, add sand and dry dirt to the fire pit and mix until the fire is smothered
- Use a fire pit snuffer to put out the fire and left to cool on its own; or add water to speed the cooling process after snuffing
How to Put Out a Fire Pit
Note: These instructions and/or guidance do not address how to put out fires in propane or gas-burning fire pits – we're talking about the wood-burning type only in this article.
Some wood-burning fire pit manufacturers, Solo Stove comes to mind, advise owners to let the fire burn out on their own and not to use water.
I’m talking about the portable, all-metal, sometimes stainless steel, type fire pits primarily. Consult your fire pit’s owner's manual to be sure.
When learning how to put out a backyard fire and deciding which option is best for you, there are a few things you should think about before the party starts, mainly your fire pit’s surroundings, whether or not children and/or pets will be nearby, and time.
I’ll go over these and other considerations and the how-to for each of the “how to put out a fire pit” options below.
1. Put Out a Fire Pit Fire by Letting It Die Out On Its Own
An unattended backyard fire pit poses a number of risks that should be considered if you decide to let the fire burn out on its own.
Cooling fire pits can be just as dangerous as ones with strong fires going and much of that risk is naturally due to the fact that nobody will be around to handle or alert others to dangers that could manifest.
Fire Pit Tip-Overs: If the fire pit were to tip for any reason, still-hot embers could come into contact with fuel sources nearby (pine needles, dry grass, firewood, your deck, etc.)
What could cause your fire pit to tip you may ask? Unsupervised children and pets, wild animals (raccoons, deer, the occasional bear…don't laugh, it happens) if you live in a rural or remote wooded area, and many, many other things. Don’t forget, Murphy never sleeps.
You may want to consider a more “for-sure” option for putting your fire out if you have children around. Not only for their safety but the fact that kids can be unpredictable and often do things they aren’t supposed to do. I know, I have three, all 10 or under.
If you have the type of wood-burning fire pit that is fixed and not capable of tipping over, sparking from cooling embers mixed with nearby fuel sources could pose an unintended fire risk as well so take that into account when making your decision.
If any of these considerations aren’t a factor and the risk is nil/minimal, letting the fire burn out on its own can be a practical option.
How to do it:
- As expected, this option is pretty simple; once the fire has died down, let the fire burn out by itself
- As mentioned before, closely monitor children and restrict their access to the area around the fire pit
- Keep the area around the fire pit clear and remove anything nearby that is susceptible to heat/flammable
- Recommend lightly wetting the surface surrounding the fire pit to minimize fire risk and damage from ejected sparks; not necessary if the fire pit is positioned on a hardscape surface and isolated from flammable materials
2. Put Out a Fire Pit Using Water
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, please consult your fire pit’s owner's manual if it is the portable all-metal type.
The rub here is that the metal from your fire pit will weaken over time from constant quick transitions from hot to cool. This is most likely the reason many manufacturers advise against it.
Using water to put out a fire will most likely provide you with the lowest risk option. When done properly, the fire is out, period.
The risk of contents starting any kind of fire outside the fire pit from sparking or an accidental tip-over is practically non-existent (again, if done properly).
The fire pit itself may be hot and still a safety risk, but the fuel source is done. The burn risk to children, pets, and others remains due to the potential of inadvertent contact with hot metal.
Is it Worth It?: For me, the decision would come down to the cost and quality of the fire pit in using water to put the fire out.
If I’m using a $40 big-box store portable metal fire pit and I get a couple of “seasons” out of it, I’m not going to care that much if it doesn’t last as long.
If I’m using a $650-plus Stahl (link to Stahl) heavy-duty wood-burning fire pit, then I’m going to think twice and come up with a plan B because of the large investment I’ve made.
Side note: I think a Stahl could handle it, but damn that's a lot of money.
How to do it:
- With your already on-hand water source (a bucket or hose) extinguish the flames by slowly soaking the burning embers, making sure that the fire is out and the contents of the fire pit are completely soaked
- Stir the ashes with a shovel until everything is saturated with water
- Remain cautious as the fire pit’s metal will still be hot to the touch
3. Put Out a Fire Using a Snuffer
In case you were wondering, a fire pit snuffer is essentially a metal lid or cover placed over the fire pit's opening to smother the flames.
It will put the main fire out but the contents will continue to be very hot and still a safety risk.
Ensure that whatever snuffer you use is either made specifically for your fire pit or at least to the dimensions of your fire pit’s opening.
When shopping for a third-party snuffer, a little overhang around the edges works well to ensure adequate coverage and a good “seal.”
If you are a talented metalworker or know one, making a custom snuffer shouldn’t be difficult.
If the easy route is more your speed, snuffers are readily available on Amazon and at your local home and garden specialty store.
Make sure you know your fire pit dimensions before shopping to ensure you find a snuffer that meets your needs.
How to do it:
- Like Option 1, you could snuff out the fire and let the embers cool on their own, keeping the same safety precautions in mind
- or, like Option 2, you can add water to the cooling embers once the fire is out via the snuffer, ensuring they are fully saturated; use a shovel to stir the contents until all embers are completely soaked
- Remain cautious as the fire pit’s metal will still be hot to the touch
4. Put Out a Fire Pit Using Sand or Dry Dirt
This option is a common method for putting out bonfires and campfires and works with fire pits as well.
How to do it:
- Have your sand/dry dirt stash ready and on hand before you start your fire
- When ready to put the fire out, begin by slowly shoveling sand or dirt into the fire pit ensuring all contents are completely covered
Having the right gear on hand when it's time will save you a lot of time and frustration. The following list is a good start for anyone looking to build a gear list for operating a wood-burning fire pit.
A Water Source (hose, bucket, etc.).
I recommend a hose because a bucket won’t get you too far in an emergency; having a connected hose nearby gives you a virtually unlimited supply of water for any situation as well as for extinguishing your fire pit; also, an attached spray nozzle with multiple settings will give you some options for various situations – your thumb over the end for spraying won’t always cut it.
Having a shovel handy will help you stir the embers of your fire pit if you choose to put it out with water or if you opt to put the fire out with sand or dry dirt.
A Heat-resistant mitt(s).
If you need to move your fire pit to another location after it has been extinguished, having heat-resistant mitts is useful if you don’t your hands to make direct contact with hot metal when repositioning.
I recommend two pairs in case someone is assisting you (a fire pit filled with soaked contents or sand/dirt is hot and can be messy, heavy, and unwieldy depending on its size).
A Fire extinguisher.
I included a fire extinguisher not as a practical option for putting out your fire pit but more as a safety precaution; if the fire gets out of control or someone accidentally catches on fire for whatever reason (unfortunately, it happens…frequently with fire pits, bonfires, campfires, etc.) your can suppress the flames quickly; always a good tool to have nearby.
If you can, I’d keep these resources together in a dedicated kit you set aside just for fire pit use. That way you don’t have to go digging around for them when it's time to use them.
Interested in more safety accessory ideas? Check out my latest list of safety items and more at 25 “Gotta-Have” Fire Pit Accessories for Your Next Backyard Burn.
Conclusion: How to Put Out a Fire in a Fire Pit
You have a lot of options when choosing how to put out a fire pit.
Not to sound preachy, but all considerations should be made with safety in mind. Convenience is secondary.
Too many people get hurt every year by unsupervised fire pits in which the fire was recently put out.
If you figure out what you are going to do ahead of time, including many of the considerations we talked about, you’ll reduce the fire pit safety risks and have a lot less stress about it later when you don’t want to think about it.
Conversely, check out my article How to Start a Fire Pit, if you are looking to get a fire going.
Thanks for reading and take care!
What are other ways to keep children and pets safe around a fire pit?
The first step in keeping children safe in the backyard is vigilant supervision.
The fire pit itself and the children nearby should never be left alone without a responsible adult present.
An established separate play area is a common method of maintaining a buffer zone between children and the fire pit.
Additionally, there are a variety of folding metal fencing options commercially available that will ensure children are kept at a safe distance. Online stores like Amazon, Wayfair, etc. carry them.
What do you do with the ashes from a backyard fire pit?
After they’ve cooled completely, ashes can be bagged and disposed of in your regular household trash pick-up.
For more on the subject, check out my article on the many uses of fire pit ash and disposal.
Where should I keep the firewood I plan to burn when operating a fire pit?
When setting aside firewood for an upcoming fire pit burn, it's best to position the stack upwind, about 10-15 away.
Prevailing winds in the U.S. tend to go from West to East. Keep an eye on winds in your area and be prepared to move your fire pit/firewood if the wind shifts. You don’t want that wood to burn any sooner than needed.