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Here’s Why You Should Never Leave A Fire Pit Burning Overnight

Here’s Why You Should Never Leave A Fire Pit Burning Overnight

Over the past decade, commercially manufactured fire pits have become increasingly popular, with families everywhere enjoying recreational fires at home. While fire pits are designed with consumer safety in mind, certain precautions should always be taken after relaxing by a backyard fire. Here’s why you should never leave a fire pit burning overnight. 

Aside from being illegal, an unattended fire pit is dangerous. Even the slightest gust of wind can send burning embers or ashes quite a distance, close to a home, or onto other flammable materials. It only takes a minute for a fire to become unmanageable; thus, an unattended fire is a hazard.

Recreational fires are an enjoyable addition to any backyard gathering, barbeque, or family picnic, but it’s important to remember that safety comes first when fire is involved.

Before planning an event with a fire pit, homeowners should review basic fire safety and check with local government agencies regarding the rules and regulations on backyard fires within their jurisdiction.

Image of a wood-burning fire pit burning in the early evening

Why You Never Leave a Fire Pit Burning Overnight

There are several reasons why a fire pit should never be left unattended at any time, including overnight.

  • In every jurisdiction within the United States, it is illegal to leave a recreational fire unattended.

  • Even a small gust of wind can easily spread hot ashes or embers a significant distance.

  • Even without a flame present, hot embers and ashes can ignite nearby flammable materials.

  • An unattended fire can engulf a home in less than 5 minutes.

  • With the right amount of oxygen, heat, and fuel, a nearly extinguished fire can reignite.

Legality Surrounding Recreational Fire

When considering a fire pit for recreational fires, it is important to check with local government agencies on fire safety rules and regulations.

Most residential jurisdictions in the United States have laws governing the usage of backyard fire pits. While the rules may vary regarding size and usage, every jurisdiction in the US states that leaving a recreational fire unattended is illegal.

Wind Speeds and Fire Spread

Even a gust of wind of 10mph can easily spread a fire. Hot embers and ashes from a fire can spread with a quick burst of wind on an otherwise quiet and calm evening.

Studies show that wood ashes can contain enough heat to risk igniting nearby flammable materials, such as leaves, trash, a wooden deck, newspaper, etc.

It only takes a small burst of wind to blow hot ashes away from a fire pit and onto potentially flammable materials. It can occur so quickly that even walking away from a fire for a minute can cause a disaster. 

Fire can spread within a mere minute to a point where serious intervention is necessary to combat heat and flames.

Even Without Flames, Materials In Fire Pit Remain Very Hot

Even if there are no active flames, if a recreational fire hasn’t been completely extinguished, it is still incredibly hot.

Just by adding paper, another piece of wood, or other flammable material, can easily reignite a recreational fire to full size once again.

It can take over 24 hours for hot ashes and embers to cool down enough on their own, so they are no longer considered a fire threat.

It is important to remember to actively extinguish all fires before leaving the area unattended.

Fires Can Spread Quickly

The US Fire Administration estimates that fires can spread dramatically within as little as 30 seconds. 

A fire from an unattended fire pit near a residential structure can potentially spread so quickly that within 5 minutes, the residence may be completely engulfed. 

It only takes a simple gust of wind to send flammable materials, such as paper or trash, into a fire pit, reigniting the flames.

If that unattended fire should remain uncontrolled, it can easily spread to the home, and ultimately the surrounding area.

Fires Can Easily Reignite

Oftentimes, people make the mistake of assuming a fire is completely out, simply because there aren’t any flames present. This is a potentially deadly mistake. Additional care must be taken to ensure that a recreational fire has truly been completely extinguished. 

Otherwise, with the heat generated in the fire pit, a fire can easily reignite with the addition of flammable materials.

How to Safely Manage a Recreational Fire at Home

With people spending more time at home than ever before, fire pits, backyard barbeques, and recreational fires have increased dramatically in popularity.

While it is important to always respect the strength and power of fire, by following a few simple rules, homeowners can enjoy outdoor fires all year long.

  • Select a commercially manufactured fire pit for optimum safety – There are several different types of fire pits available. Choose one from a reputable manufacturer to ensure maximum safety.

  • Place a fire pit in an open area – A fire pit should be placed in an open area, at least 10 feet from any residential structure, overhang, trees, and other foliage. 

  • Use a non-flammable base – Never place a fire pit directly on a deck or grass, as these are potentially flammable. Always use a non-flammable stone or base between the fire pit and any wooden structure or grass.

  • Always check local weather reports – Fire pits should not be used on windy days or on days when air pollution is high. 

  • Extinguish the fire completely before leaving unattended – Several methods can be used to ensure that a fire pit has been completely extinguished. It is important to be vigilant when closing up the pit at the end of an evening’s fun.

How to Safely Extinguish a Recreational Fire

When enjoying a backyard fire, there are important steps to take to ensure everyone’s safety when ending the night. Here is how to safely extinguish a controlled backyard fire:

  • Discontinue adding wood or other materials about 1 hour before the evening’s activities are going to end.

  • Once flames are completely extinguished, carefully turn over any remaining wood to ensure burning has ceased.

  • Carefully spread the ashes around in the firepit. This helps to reduce hot spots.

  • Pour water on the ashes and wait for steam to dissipate.

  • If preferred, sand can be used in place of water.

  • Once extinguished, shovel all of the ashes into a metal trash can.

Taking the time to complete these simple steps will help ensure the safety of the homeowners and their personal property.

Different Styles of Fire Pits

There are several different styles of fire pits available for consumers today. The most common are:

  • Standard Fire Pit/Fire Bowl – This is your typical wood-burning fire pit where the fire is up off of the ground and contained in a bowl or cylinder-like container. This type can be very light and portable to very heavy and stationary depending on the size and design of the fire pit.

  • Fire Tables – Fire tables are one of the larger fire pits available. A true table, the fire table has plenty of space for glasses and cookware, with a small fire pit in the center of the table. These are heavy, not very portable, and ideal for use in a large open area with plenty of space.

  • Fire Rings – Fire rings give users a “traditional campfire” experience. They are large metal rings designed to contain a fire that is built directly on the ground or may have a bowl inside for easy cleanup.

  • Pagoda Style – Pagoda style fire pits are portable and include a roof and screened walls to help contain the flames, ash, and embers from escaping from the unit. They are one of the safest styles of backyard recreational fire equipment.

  • Table-Top Units – These are a great choice for small areas, such as an apartment deck or a crowded patio. These units are small, easily portable but still provide the charm of a live, albeit small, outdoor fire.

Wood Burning Fire Pits vs. Gas Burning Fire Pits

In addition to the many styles of fire pits available, homeowners can choose between wood-burning or gas-burning fire pits.

Each can provide the nostalgic feel of an old-time campfire, provide welcomed heat to a party on a cool night, and provide the romance of a live fire, but there are definite pros and cons for each.

Wood Burning Fire Pits
Provides a more traditional experienceWood does not burn clean
Simple installation and portabilityRequires more work to maintain fire
More affordable optionHigher risk of fire hazard
Requires more clean up
Harder to get started

While wood-burning fire pits can truly create the aesthetic most people are searching for when considering a backyard fire pit, they do require a bit of upkeep. Wood burning creates smoke and leaves a ton of ash to contend with at the end of the night. 

Starting a wood fire can also be difficult if the wood is too damp, and it is important to be sure not to burn treated wood because it can create toxins.

However, wood-burning fire pits are easy to install, require no gas lines, and can be quickly moved from place to place if necessary. The start-up costs for a wood-burning fire pit are also much lower than a gas-burning alternative.

Gas/Propane Burning Fire Pit
Much cleaner burningRequires installation and gas lines
Easier to light and extinguishMore expensive than wood-burning
Creates less of a fire hazardRequires a large gas tank for storage
Often requires professional installation
Not easily portable

Gas Fire Pits are much easier to use than their wood-burning counterparts. They are simple to light and equally as easy to switch off at the end of an evening. Propane burns much cleaner than wood, and without ashes and embers, there is a much smaller chance of creating a true fire hazard.

However, propane burning pits typically require professional installation, and once they are in place, they aren’t simple to move due to installed gas lines and the accompanying propane tank. They are also much more expensive than the traditional wood-burning style.

Some Simple Do’s and Don’ts for Fire Pit Safety

There is a lot to learn when first using backyard fire pits. It is imperative for new users that some basic research is completed prior to the first fire and that all local regulations are followed.

When enjoying a backyard recreational fire – 

Do – Ensure you are burning only clean wood designed for fires. Wood should be dry and untreated.

Do – Keep all flammable materials far away from the fire pit.

Do – Always ensure a backyard recreational fire is being manned and monitored.

Do – Keep a water source or shovel and sand nearby for quick extinguishing, if necessary.

Do – Keep an eye on local weather and burning recommendations.

Do – Ensure that fires are adequately extinguished at the end of the night.

Don’t -Never place fire pits within 10 feet of residential buildings, sheds, trees, or other potential fire hazards.

Don’t –  Never burn construction lumber, treated wood, leaves, or plywood, which is typically chemically treated.

Don’t –  Never store wood supply near the fire pit. Wood should be placed far from the pit for safety purposes.

Don’t – Never allow young children to run or play near open flames. Kids should never be left around a fire pit without supervision.

Don’t – Never burn on “air alert” days where winds or pollution is higher than normal for safety purposes.

Don’t – Never use a fire pit for burning trash. This creates pollutants and is restricted in most residential areas around the country. 

Even though there is a lot to learn about safe burning, fire pit maintenance, and local rules and regulations, fire pits can be a great addition to any home.

There is little wonder why fire pits have become so popular in recent years. Fire pits are enjoyable and provide many benefits.

The Benefits of a Backyard Fire Pit

Whether enjoying an evening alone or one filled with family and friends, backyard recreational fires can be quite an enjoyable experience. Here are some of the simple benefits of a backyard fire pit.

  • Year-Round Entertainment:  Especially for those in cooler climates, it isn’t fun being stuck inside all winter. With a backyard fire pit, it’s possible to get outside and enjoy all four seasons.

  • Great for Social Gatherings: There is something about a nice backyard fire that draws in guests. Having a backyard fire pit makes entertaining guests pretty simple. Some good music, a few drinks, and a lovely fire make for a great evening.

  • Provides an attractive aesthetic: Today’s modern fire pits are beautiful, stylish, and very attractive. They come in a wide range of styles and can really add to a home or backyard’s overall look.

  • Great spot for a date at home: Let’s face it, fires are romantic; what better way to spend an evening with a partner or loved one than curled up together by the fire?

  • Provides light for evening activities: Backyard fire pits can help keep the party going by providing plenty of light for additional socializing and other outdoor activities.

  • Great for a barbeque:  Wood burning fire pits are a great source for backyard cooking. A creative cook can make everything from breakfast to dessert on a backyard fire pit. 

  • Can potentially add to your home’s value: Due to the overwhelming popularity of fire pits in recent years, a well placed, well maintained, permanent fire pit can actually add to the value of your home during a resell.

  • Wise Investment:  Based on the initial cost, with just a little use, a fire pit is a great investment. With relatively inexpensive upfront costs, fire pits can provide hours of entertainment, fun, and family bonding. These are truly things with value beyond measure.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Fire Pit

Fire pits are a great home accessory, but before purchasing one, there are several things that homeowners should consider when deciding on a fire pit.

  • Local rules and regulations. Most jurisdictions have restrictions on the size of backyard fire pits and rules about yard placement, plus when and how it can be used. It is important to check with local governing bodies to ensure all requirements are being met before purchase.

  • Materials – Fire pits can be made of stone, metal, concrete, or a mixture of these materials. Consider longevity, aesthetics, climate, and personal style when deciding on the material for a backyard fire pit. What makes sense in Florida may not be the best choice in Maine, for example.

  • Propane or Wood Burning? Depending on location, lifestyle, and climate, one choice may make more sense for a particular homeowner. For a traditionalist who plans to host backyard cookouts using the fire pit, clearly, wood is the way to go. However, if easy cleanup, simplicity, and clean fuel is a priority, propane may make the most sense. 

  • Size – Fire pits come in all sizes, from small table-top versions to massive backyard ring style pits. Homeowners should consider their use of space, the amount of room available, and their overall lifestyle when deciding what size and style is right for them.

The right fire pit can truly be a terrific choice, providing hours of fun, relaxation, and entertainment for kids and adults alike. 

Fire pits can be safe and fun entertainment. As long as homeowners follow the rules regarding proper fire pit management, never leaving the pit unattended, especially overnight, and ensure that proper extinguishing procedures are followed.

For more on the topic if fire pit safety, check out my article Backyard Fire Pit Safety 101.

Thanks for reading and take care!

– John