Enjoying a fire pit, responsibly

Backyard fire pits are popular backyard additions, especially in the fall. (stock photo/Pixabay)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Fall is a great time to gather around a backyard fire pit and enjoy the cooler weather. Cullman Fire Marshal Chris Chaffin described enjoying a fire pit as “like camping without being at the campground.” But, like any activity involving fire, there are risks and the potential for accidents.

“If you have a fire pit, make sure it is a true fire pit. Don’t just go out and build a fire on top of the ground in your yard, said Chaffin. “You want to do whatever you can to keep it from spreading. We recommend going and purchasing the fire pits from Lowe’s, Wal-Mart or online at Amazon that make different ones.”

He urges users to set fire pits up as far away from their homes as possible.

“Anywhere from 10-25 feet,” Chaffin said. “Especially those with vinyl siding or wood decks or any other kind of structures. Get it away from the house just because of the heat.”

Chaffin also instructs fire pit owners to not set them up under trees, saying, “That’s even worse. Have it clear and open to where it’s able to get enough space if it were to flame up without getting into the bushes. What happens, if you build it under trees, it will actually kill the trees. It will get into the limbs and make things even worse.”

Chaffin warned, “Do not clean up your yard and burn leaves in the fire pit and call it that you are burning the fire pit. It creates a bunch of smoke and then we get called and we have to ask you to put it out.”

Instead, he advises city residents to pile leaves curbside for the City to pick up.

Use extra precaution with children around fire pits. Establish a kid-free zone around it and never leave kids around a fire pit by themselves.

Added Chaffin, “If you are using marshmallows, when they pull it off the fire, those things are flaming, and they want to swing it back and forth. That becomes a flaming fireball.”

Regardless of what you choose to cook over the fire, be careful. The metal skewers heat up quickly and can be dangerous.

Chaffin reminds people to not use gasoline or diesel fuel to accelerate the fire.

“Start out small,” he said. “There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to learn how to make a fire and do it correctly.”

Always have something ready to put the fire out. Chaffin recommends a bucket of water, a bucket of sand or even a nearby water hose, but never leave the fire burning overnight.

In the event dry conditions lead to a burn ban, Chaffin said, “We do not recommend using fire pits when under a burn ban. When it does get really dry, we recommend, don’t do it. For the simple fact that everything is so dry, the humidity gets low and the chances of fires getting out of control is a greater risk. There’s more danger there.”

Always be mindful of your neighbors when gathering around your fire pit. Chaffin said the fire department does get complaints.

“There’s always that risk. If you are creating an issue and you are creating a bunch of smoke and smoking out the neighborhood, our guys will probably get called,” he said. “They are probably going to come and ask you to either stir up the fire and make it hotter or ask you to put it out. It’s creating a nuisance then, and that’s in the burn restrictions the city has in the ordinances about it being a nuisance.”

Chaffin does enjoy a fire pit himself, he said, especially in the fall.

“Sitting there with a fire pit, it’s cool weather and you’re sitting around a campfire in your own little backyard. It’s a whole lot better than sitting around inside watching TV. It’s more relaxing. For outdoorsy people, it’s a thing and you find relaxation there. It’s a great way to have the outdoors here in the middle of town.”

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Christy Perry