Relaxing around a fire pit — fireflies in the air and pie in your belly — is one of the best ways to end a backyard barbecue. And when you’re camping, a fire pit can serve as the hub of your campsite — a place where you relax, tell stories, cook food and keep warm when it’s cold. Whether you’re in the comfort of your own backyard or relaxing in the wilderness, these fire pit safety tips can help you keep your friends and family protected. 

1. Choose the Right Location

The first step to fire pit safety? Finding a level surface in an open area. Your fire pit should be at least 10 feet from structures or items that can catch fire, like your home, your tent and any plants. Overhanging branches, wooden decks and fences are a big no-no. That means your fire pit should never be beneath a canopy, under a covered patio or below trees.

2. Pick Your Fuel

If you’re going for a nostalgic fire pit (that is accompanied by the sounds of popping and crackling), a wood-burning pit is the way to go. Want fire on demand? Gas or propane pits offer a quick-lighting option. And now, many store-bought fire pits allow you to switch between wood and gas.

3. Use the Right Wood

Choosing the right wood is an important part of fire pit safety, and that means using seasoned hardwoods. Construction materials like plywood can release toxic fumes, while soft woods can spark and pop excessively. Only use wood that fits entirely in your pit and doesn’t stick out.

4. Don’t Use Fuel Accelerants

It can be tempting to use fuel accelerants like lighter fluid to start and grow a fire, especially if you’re in the wilderness and struggling to get your campfire going. However, they can be extremely unsafe. Not only can they release toxic fumes, but they can start an explosion or cause your fire to grow too quickly.

Instead, gather the basic materials you need to start a fire: tinder, kindling and wood. Tinder is the smallest and easiest burning materials used to get a fire started, and it’s generally dry and fluffy. Examples include: 

  • Wood shavings
  • Paper
  • Strips of cardboard
  • Commercial fire sticks or fire starters

Once the tinder has caught fire, it can help ignite the kindling, which typically consists of twigs or small branches. When collecting kindling, only use wood that snaps and breaks. If it bends, it’s too wet to burn.

5. Add a Screen

Using a fire pit screen is one of the best ways to protect your guests from errant embers and sparks that could ignite dry material like clothing. Choose a screen of heat-resistant metal like cast iron or steel.

6. Check the Weather Report and Burn Status

Windy days are dangerous for fires, as wind can cause fires to rapidly spread. Before heading out to the fire pit, check for restrictions or warnings issued by your county’s air quality department. When pollution levels are high, this government body may issue “no burn” restrictions to limit particulate matter and carbon dioxide levels.

Likewise, when the humidity starts to drop and the air gets dryer, the risk of wildfires increases. In conditions like these, a crackling campfire can become a hazardous wildfire unless it is properly extinguished.

7. Be Smart Around Fire

You wouldn’t leave your children around an unattended pool, right? Always have an adult present when the fire is burning. Also, avoid wearing flowy clothing that could flutter into the flame and drinking excessively when burning a fire. And never leave a fire pit burning overnight. Consider having a fire extinguisher nearby in case it gets out of hand.

8. Extinguish the Fire Correctly

One of the most critical parts of fire pit safety is properly extinguishing the fire. To make sure your fire is completely out, drown the fire pit with water and mix the ashes and embers with soil. You’ll also want to scrape partially burned logs to make sure the hot embers are off of them. Then, stir the embers to make sure everything is wet.

If you’re camping, gently feel the rocks in the fire ring around the fire and partially burned wood after you’ve put plenty of water over the fire and let it burn out. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!

9. Alert Your Insurance Agent

If you have a fire pit in your backyard, you may need to disclose it for your homeowners insurance policy. Reach out to your Farm Bureau agent to make sure your yard and home are properly protected.