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If you own a fire pit, knowing how to start it is important; learning to put the fire out is just as critical, if not so. For this article we will be reviewing some pointers to make sure your fire begins at the best location possible for safety, and how to extinguish it without putting yourself at risk. Knowing how to put out a fire pit is critical to fire safety.
A Fire Pit That Begins Safely, Can Be Put Out Safely
Fire Pit Safety – City of Saskatoon, SK, Canada
As useful and cozy as a fire can be, it is something that must be handled with every possible precaution. Here’s what to keep in mind before starting:
Flying embers are a pretty sight when we sit around a bonfire, but they can also turn a merry gathering into a fire hazard if they land where they shouldn’t (such as a patch of dry vegetation) as they fly all over the place. This is why it is always preferable to avoid starting fires if windy conditions are expected. Burn bans are also common during hotter days or if air quality has deteriorated; check with your local office if one is in effect, so you can save yourself some serious headaches down the road.
Distance and ground, here are the points that count:
- Keep your fire pit at least 10′ away from anything that could be at risk, such as walls or potentially flammable materials.
- The area surrounding the fire pit (10 to 20′ radius) should be picked clean of any combustible bits such as dry leaves, small branches, paper and the like.
- Gasoline, lighter fluid, oil and such? Keep them as far away from the location of the fire as you can; these elements can ignite even if they don’t touch the fire, if their temperature rises to a certain point.
- Watch how close you and others get to the fire while it’s going. Use a poker if you need to readjust the wood.
- When choosing where to place your fire pit, ensure it is a level surface, and try to avoid placing it on top of grass.
- This should go without saying, but just in case: your fire pit should always be in the open, without any cover at the top. Of particular importance are any low hanging branches, which could catch fire in a split second if they are too close.
Supplies to Put Out a Fire Pit
The following items should be close at hand—better to have them and not need them, than need them but not have them.
- A (properly connected) garden hose, or a reserve of 10 gallons of water. This, in fact, can be a less than ideal way to put out a fire (we will explain why later), but it should definitely be available in case of an emergency. A bucket of sand is also a good option.
- A shovel. This will mainly be used to stir the contents of your fire pit as part of the fire extinguishing process—but we’ll talk about this in detail later on.
- An extinguisher is the best alternative to keep handy while starting and maintaining a fire at home; no house should be without it, fire pit or not. That said, extinguishers come in different types, with each being optimized for certain types of fires. For this specific purpose, go for class A—suitable for more common combustibles such as plastic, trash, paper, and the one we care about right now, wood. You can also go for a multiclass extinguisher like this one, which will have you covered for most emergencies in your home—gasoline, paint, wires, appliances, to name a few.
- A first aid kit, simply because being prepared doesn’t hurt. If you decide to put it together yourself, just be sure to include a burn treatment kit.
- A spark screen. This will keep any embers from flying where they’re not supposed to (such as a patch of dry vegetation which can then ignite), while letting your fire breathe just fine. Spark screens are mostly intended for commercial fire pits, and as such come in varying sizes and even shapes, with some designed with one part that can slide so you can gain easy access to your wood logs without having to remove the entire thing.
- A metal bucket and shovel. You will need these for when it’s time to clear the ashes off, which we will discuss more in detail further down.
A Proper Start
How To Start and Put Out a Campfire – US Forest Service
There are two things to keep in mind at the beginning. One is, use either locally sourced firewood (if at home), or dry leaves and twig that are already on the ground (if you’re outdoors). Avoid burning trash or pressure-treated wood, and do not take branches out of trees.
For starting the fire, small twigs, leaves, or old newspaper are acceptable, as are matches. Lighter fluids are a no-no, as using them can quickly turn your fire into something you cannot control.
While It Goes On
Never leave it unattended, that’s what it comes down to. As long as the fire is going, one adult should keep eyes on it, and ensure no kids or animals come too close. There is, for example, a risk of getting too close to the fire pit and stumbling into the hot surface, which can lead to injury. You should also be careful not to let the fire get too big, so it will remain easy to control.
If you want to go on errands and there’s nobody else to put on watch, you should put the fire out completely before leaving, which is what we will cover on our next section.
Different Fire Pits Are Put Out Differently
Fire pits are no longer of a single kind. If it is a gas fire pit, then it is simpler: all you need is to turn the knob all the way back, in order to interrupt the flow to the burner. This will, in turn, snuff out the fire, and you don’t need to do anything further. Wood fire pits, on the other hand, require more careful handling.
The First Steps
Whenever possible, it is best to let the fire burn out on its own—put itself out, in a way. To facilitate this, you can stop adding fuel to the fire about an hour before you plan to depart—or go back inside, depending on where you are.
When you’re ready, you can begin by using a shovel to put out any logs that are still burning. Then, using said shovel or your fire poker, separate the chunks of wood from one another. This will make it easier to extinguish the fire, as it will be holding less heat.
Next is, dousing the fire, which will vary depending on what exactly your fire pit is.
1. Rock Or Cement
First things first: if you decide to create a fire ring out of rocks lying around, do not pick them up from any body of water; the moisture within can cause them to explode if exposed to extreme heat too soon. Rather, choose them from your surroundings. That said, whether we’re talking about a rock fire ring or a cement enclosure, the process is fairly similar.
That done, start pouring water into the fire, be it from your bucket or your hose. In this latter case, do not use a focused stream, like a jet; use a shower spray type instead, as what we’re going for is generally covering the fire. To this end, your bucket or hose should go up and down first, and then left to right. Hold your water source high, to avoid getting scalded by the steam that will ensue. Do not pour all of your reserve at once, as your fire might need additional applications before it is truly out.
This applies to fire bowls that can often be found at designated campgrounds, and to commercially available fire pits that are intended for home use. For the former, the park administration will have its own rules and recommendations (which will usually advise to use water). For commercial fire pits, however, water is not so strongly recommended, as dousing the fire in this way will cause the metal’s temperature to plummet in a matter of seconds, which can easily compromise its integrity down the line. There’s also the risk of rust: many fire pits come with finishes aimed at preventing this, but it is still possible.
In this case—and for when there’s no water—, sand is a perfectly good alternative, with the added benefit that there will be no sudden puff of smoke. Pour in a similar fashion as we said before: up, down, and side to side, making sure to cover all of the fire.
Ensuring the Fire Is Out
Be it water or sand, the next step is to mix it in. Using your shovel, stir everything around, so that every bit of (formerly) burning wood will be put out. Check your surroundings for any burning bits that might have flown out of the enclosure, and deal with them appropriately.
If, by any chance, you used the fire pit for cooking, there could be grease droppings that stubbornly refuse to give up their flame (this can happen with gas fire pits too). In this case, apply an appropriate cover to block the oxygen, which should finish the fire off.
Next is performing a temperature check: begin by approaching the back of your bare hand to your fire’s remains. If you feel the slightest hint of warmth, you must repeat the process, i.e. pouring more water or sand and mixing it all in. If you don’t feel warmth as you approach, apply your hand to the surface. Only when the area feels cool as you fully touch it can you consider your fire extinguished. If your fire was contained by rock or cement, it is strongly recommended to cool it down by applying water or sand, for the safety of those who may approach later.
While we’re at it, we might as well touch upon safe handling of a fireplace. You can learn more by watching this short video, made with the support of FEMA’s Fire Administration.
How To Properly Extinguish a Fire – Wes DuPlantier, produced by US Fire Administration
Safely Disposing Of The Ashes
Fire pits at home have to be kept clean, which means emptying their burned contents. This, in and of itself, is a process that needs done with certain care. For starters, they should never be placed in plastic or cardboard containers; this is where the pail and shovel we mentioned before come into play.
Once the ashes are all in the bucket, they should be disposed of as soon as possible; if you cannot do it immediately, be sure to at least leave the bucket a good 10 feet from any buildings or walls. From there, you can do any of the following:
Dump the ashes outside. Be sure to choose a safe location to do this, either a snow bank in winter, or a moist spot away from vegetation during the summer.
Enrich your garden. In most cases, ash is better used as an addition to your compost, benefiting your ground in a variety of ways. Certain crops, such as tomatoes, can improve by applying a given proportion of ash right into the soil. Wood ash is also great for pest control, when combined with hydrated lime.
Melt ice. Apply to your driveway or walkway, and it will help avoid slipping for you and your car.
In Closing – Douse Your Fire Pit!
Fire pits are a superb alternative for keeping warm, or simply as a focal point for our gatherings. There’s no reason to believe this will change any time soon, nor should it. All it takes is a degree of preparation and vigilance, and we’re up for many seasons of cozy, warm memories.
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