But, there’s a catch (pun intended): over 5,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year from accidents related to fire pits and outdoor heaters. So be sure to follow your local laws, building codes, and safety recommendations to ensure your time spent gathering around the fire pit is fun and memorable.
Check local laws, ordinances, and policies first. A fire pit is a great idea, unless the law says you can’t do it. Fines and court costs can happen if you are found to be outside of the law. Check with your local code enforcement officer to be sure before you start buying materials. Likewise, refer to your lease, homeowners association policies, or condominium association agreement if applicable.
Choose the location carefully. At least 10 to 20 feet away from buildings and plants. Never under an overhang or tree branches. On top of a proper foundation. Filled with lava rocks or river rocks. With a bucket of water or hose nearby, just in case.
Build with safety and quality in mind. An in-ground fire pit should have a foundation of gravel deep enough to avoid heaving during the cold months, and a height of only about 1 foot above ground to serve its purpose. To avoid allowing the heat to break down the blocks over time, it should have a steel ring to act as a heat barrier. Secure the blocks with proper masonry adhesive rather than risking an accident with loosely-stacked blocks.
Pay Attention to Conditions. Sudden wind gusts can change a fun evening into a call to 9-1-1, so pay attention to current conditions, wind direction, and your weather forecast before starting your fire. Just one ember propelled by the wind up into a tree or onto a rooftop can spark a devastating fire.
Sit back and relax. Keep seats, children, and pets at least 3 feet away from the fire. Drink responsibly to avoid preventable accidents and injuries. If you must step away, keep a responsible adult in charge of safety or completely extinguish the fire with water. Never leave glowing embers or logs unattended, as many of the most catastrophic forest fires on record started from fires left not fully extinguished. As Smokey Bear says, “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
Be prepared to put it out safely. A fire blanket and fire extinguisher on hand can save a life, or at least minimize property damage. Don’t light the fire until you have a safe, sure way to put it out in case of an emergency or unexpected change in conditions.