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

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By J. Herwick

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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. In addition, a fire only takes a minute 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 a 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.

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Why You Never Leave a Fire Pit Burning Overnight

Several reasons a fire pit should never be left unattended, including overnight.

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

  • Even a tiny gust of wind can quickly spread hot ashes or embers over a significant distance.

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

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

  • A nearly extinguished fire can reignite with the right amount of oxygen, heat, and fuel.
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When considering a fire pit for recreational fires, it is essential to check with local government agencies on fire safety rules and regulations to see if you are legally allowed to have a fire pit in your backyard and how to operate it properly.

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 quickly spread a fire. Likewise, 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. But unfortunately, it can occur so quickly that even walking away from a fire for a minute can cause a disaster. 

Fire can spread within a 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 no active flames exist, it is still incredibly hot if a recreational fire isn’t completely extinguished.

Adding paper, another piece of wood, or other flammable material, can quickly 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 extinguish all fires before leaving the area unattended actively.

Fires Can Spread Quickly

The U.S. 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 remains uncontrolled, it can quickly spread to the home and the surrounding area.

Fires Can Easily Reignite

Often, people mistake assuming a fire is entirely 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 been completely extinguished. 

Otherwise, with the heat generated in the fire pit, a fire can quickly 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.

Use a commercially manufactured fire pit for optimum safety

Several types of fire pits are available. Choose one from a reputable manufacturer to ensure maximum safety.

Place fire pits 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. Instead, 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 when air pollution is high. 

Extinguish the fire completely before leaving it unattended

Several methods can be used to ensure that a fire pit has been completely extinguished. However, it is essential 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 essential steps 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 end.

  • Once flames are 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. Putting your fire pit fire out the right way the first time will save you a lot of time and trouble so don’t wing it.

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

There is a lot to learn when first using backyard fire pits. Therefore, it is imperative for new users to do some basic research before the first fire and follow all local regulations.

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, shovel, and sand nearby for quick extinguishing, if necessary.
  • Do – Keep an eye on local weather and burning recommendations.
  • Do – Ensure that fires are completely extinguished at the night’s end.
  • 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, typically chemically treated.
  • Don’t – Never store wood supplies 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. Likewise, kids should never be left around a fire pit without supervision.
  • Don’t – Never burn on “air alert” days where winds or pollution are higher than usual 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 recently. Fire pits are enjoyable and provide many benefits.

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 fire pit rules and regulations

Most jurisdictions have restrictions on the size of backyard fire pits, yard placement rules, and when and how they can be used; as a result, it is essential to check with local governing bodies to ensure all requirements are met before purchasing

Fire Pit Materials

Fire pits can be made of stone, metal, concrete, or a mixture; consider longevity, aesthetics, climate, and personal style when deciding on the material for a backyard fire pit; for example, what makes sense in Florida may not be the best choice in Maine.

Propane or Wood Burning Fire Pit?

One choice may make more sense for a particular homeowner depending on location, lifestyle, and climate; for example, for the traditionalist planning to host backyard cookouts, using a fire pit, wood is the way to go; however, if easy cleanup, simplicity, and clean fuel are prioritized, propane may make the most sense. 

Fire Pit Size

Fire pits come in all sizes, from miniature table-top versions to massive backyard ring-style pits; homeowners should consider their use of space, the available room, and overall lifestyle when deciding what size and style are right for them.

The right fire pit can provide hours of fun, relaxation, and entertainment for kids and adults alike.

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

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

Thanks for reading, and take care!

– John

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