You see them advertised in newspapers and in gardening and home improvement stores in all
shapes, colors and sizes. They are, I have to admit, pretty and would make a cool evening in the backyard very inviting. The vision of
family and friends sitting around the fire to roast marshmallows and having friendly conversation is pretty irresistible.
At the risk of drowning the fire of irresistibility here, I have to say that these things
scare the heck out of me!
I hate to sound like a broken record when it comes to fire safety, BUT I see a great
danger if fire safety is not practiced when using a fire pit, especially with the low-sitting pits that are completely open and do not
contain the fire in any way.
I have two stories I would like to share with you:
The first story is about the way fire pits were displayed at a home improvement store I
recently visited. The trendy outdoor-living room display was beautiful; it almost made me want to purchase everything. The displays had
pretty canvas canopies with couches and rugs sitting underneath. Between the two couches was a coffee table-sized fire pit. It sat very
low, about 18" high. Although it looked very nice, I couldn't believe it was sitting under a canvas canopy. I was so bothered that I asked
the salesperson if he thought it would be safe to burn one of these under the tent-like structure. He said, "I don't think that would be a
good idea." I asked him why it was displayed sitting under the tent structure. He replied, "Well that's just for looks, no one would
actually burn one of them under one of these canopies." I don't know about that; to me it looked innocent and non-threatening in that
inviting environment, and I know better! I commented that I did not see any warning labels or signs stating, "For display purposes only,
do not burn in or under canopy or any cloth covering, danger of fire, burns or carbon monoxide poisoning." He told me he never thought of
that. The next time I visited the store, the fire pits were no longer displayed under the canopies.
The second story is about my personal experience with a backyard fire pit. I went to
visit a friend on a warm day. We spent the day out on her deck; the kids were jumping from the pool at one end of the deck to the hot tub
located at the other end. Near the hot tub was a circle of chairs with a square-shaped fire pit in the middle sitting safely on a
fireproof/fire-resistant mat. It stood about 20" high. Although it was a hot day, as the evening neared a chill was in the air and my
friend piled wood into the pit. As she began to light the wood in the pit, I moved my chair out and away from the circle. The flames shot
up and I could feel the heat. I worried as the kids jumped out of the hot tub to join us around the fire. The pit came up to my mid-leg,
and on the little ones, it was about hip- height. I worried about them getting too close with the towels wrapped loosely around them or
them slipping and falling into the pit and, I hoped the flying ambers would not set the deck or worse, the house, on fire.
I asked my friend if the burning pit made her nervous. She said, "No, we do this all
the time," and she commented that I worry too much about fire safety. She was wrong on both counts! I do not worry about fire safety; I
worry about fire carelessness. You can never worry too much about being fire safe; it is when you do not worry about it that accidents
I think the higher standing fire pits with a chimney (also known as a chiminea) seem
safer as the fire is more enclosed and controlled!
Here are some tips from a fire safety expert on how to properly use a fire pit:
· Portable fire pits are designed for outdoor use only and should never be used indoors
where they would pose a fire danger and could contribute to carbon monoxide poisoning.
· The fire pit should be set up for use on a solid surface and in an open area away from
buildings and overhanging rooflines or trees, and not under a low trellis, canopy or roof over a deck.
· Make sure to clear all combustibles away from the fire pit such as
leaves, dry grass, or pine needles, and keep all patio furniture and other combustible items several feet from the fire pit to avoid fires
stemming from radiant heat or hot embers or sparks.
· Have a working fire extinguisher available as well as a source of water such as a garden hose.
· Never use your portable fire pit during windy conditions.
· Make sure the fire screen is in place before using a portable fire pit,
and burn only fuels recommended by the manufacturer.
· Keep fires small to avoid sparks and embers that could fly out, and to
avoid damage to screens from prolonged exposure to excessive overheating.
· Most important, keep children from playing around portable fire pits
that could be accidentally tipped over, spilling fire, embers and ash, and never "play" with fire while using a portable fire pit.
· Do not leave a fire pit unattended and make sure to follow
the manufacturer's recommendations for putting the fire out and disposing of the ash.
While these fire pits are indeed inviting, be aware of their dangers: They also
invite fires and burns if not used correctly. Enjoy your summer safely!