There’s nothing quite like sitting around an open fire, whether it’s a fire pit in your backyard or a campfire out in the backcountry. Toasting marshmallows around the fire is a time-honored family tradition, which creates memories that last a lifetime.
However, with wildfires being such a serious threat to the forests and nature of our country, campers must be responsible when putting out their campfires. Whether you’re primitive camping and cooking over your campfire or just sitting around one in the backyard at home, everyone should know how to put out a fire pit correctly.
Step 1: If possible, let your fire pit burn down completely until the wood had turned almost fully to ash.
All this takes is a little planning ahead, just stop adding fuel to the fire about an hour before you plan to leave, this way the fire can burn down naturally, making your job much easier.
To speed up the process, you can put out the remaining chunks of wood using a shovel or stick. We understand it’s not always possible to wait until a fire has completely burned down, but it’s much easier this way, so when it comes time to extinguish the fire you’ll be ready.
Step 2: Spread out the remaining wood or coals with a shovel or stick.
They will extinguish much quicker if they’re not touching, as the fire will hold less heat. Just watch out for any red embers, and pay special attention to larger chunks of wood. They may look cool on the outside, but they could still be holding some substantial heat in the center.
Step 3: Douse the fire with a bucket of water.
When you do this, be careful to hold the bucket several feet above the fire when pouring water on, to avoid any scalding from hot steam which might rise. You may hear sizzling sounds from any embers that may still be ignited, just remember to cover all the ashes in water, not just parts that are red. Pour until the sizzling sounds have silenced completely.
Step 4: Using your shovel or stick, stir around the ashes to make sure every element that was your fire is now completely soaked in water.
Stir up all the remaining chunks of wood and embers, and also check the surrounding rocks for embers. If necessary, you can always add more water.
Step 5: Check your fire pit and its surroundings, look for any wood or ashes that might have blown away or fallen.
Before leaving, always check the entire campsite, garden, or area, for sparks or any heat, even a tiny ember can start a forest fire in the right conditions.
Step 6: Do a temperature check on the area where your fire was.
You should be able to touch it with no pain and without feeling any heat. Ensure that the fire pit and surrounding area is completely cool, if it’s not, repeat the previous steps until you are sure that the fire is fully out.
- If you don’t have water to extinguish the fire, you can use dirt. Just use the same method as you would with the water, mix it with the embers until the fire pit is fully cooled.
- Never wait until the last moment before you leave to extinguish the campfire or fire pit. You should start the process once you start packing up so that you can be sure the fire is fully out by the time you vacate the area. Putting out your fire as a last-minute task before you leave is dangerous, as if you don’t take the time to do it right, there could still be hot embers around.
- Always check the whole area for sparks and embers. In the dry season, this is all it takes to start a wildfire.
Tips for making your fire pit last
Fire pits have been around since the stone age, with early humans using them as their main source of warmth and cooking. Back then they generally consisted of nothing more than holes dug in the ground, basically just a bonfire, but nowadays our fire pits are a little more sophisticated. Fire pits are now the second most popular outdoor furnishing, and if you plan on buying a fire pit (or already have one) you’ll need to know how to maintain it.
- Always choose what you burn carefully. Avoid burning trash or pressure-treated wood. Instead, opt for a traditional wood-burning fire pit, and use only dry (never damp) locally sourced firewood. Burning anything else can release toxic fumes and chemicals, and aside from the dangers, this poses to your health, these chemicals can damage your fire pit over time.
- If you’re using dry firewood, you should have no need to use lighter fluid. Building your fire using proper techniques, you should be able to easily get it started using tinder and kindling. Again, the lighter fluid actually threatens bodily harm, and it can also damage the finish on your fire pit, and this can lead to degradation over time. If you struggle lighting your fire pit without, we have a few tips later in this article on starting your fire using only natural materials; firewood, tinder, and kindling.
- Allowing your fire to extinguish naturally is much better for the fire pit itself. Sure, dousing it with water is much quicker and easier, but the sudden change in temperature could cause damage to the materials your fire pit is built out of. Unless it’s an emergency situation, try to sit with your fire until it completely burns down, and of course, you’ll need to verify that its completely cool before you leave the area. A 1000 degree fire being suddenly cooled can damage the structural integrity of your fire pit, and this could potentially be dangerous down the line.
- If you, like many owners of fire pits, use it for cooking, you should clean the grate before and after use, every time. Once you’ve finished sizzling your burgers, allow the grate to cool completely, then use a wire brush to scrub your fire pits grate and remove any food or debris. Failure to complete this every time can lead to hardened pieces of food stuck to the grate, which is not very appetizing to see next time you want to use it. Consider adding cooking oil to the grate before using it. This will discourage rust and erosion, and actually, make it easier to cook.
- When you’re not using your fire pit, always keep it covered. Leaving it exposed to the elements day in and day out will definitely leave it prone to damage. Rain can cause rusting and serious damage to the structure, which can actually make it unsafe for use in the future, and also ruin its appearance.
- Remove the ashes from your fire pit after each use. We recommend waiting 24 hours after the fire pit has gone out, to make sure its completely cooled, then using a shovel to transfer any ashes and debris to a safe non-flammable container to be disposed of. Never attempt to remove the ashes while they’re still hot.
Fire pit safety
When discussing outdoor fire pits, there are plenty of safety issues that everyone should be aware of. Although they’re lots of fun and can provide a lot of enjoyment on those chilled out summer evenings, safety must always come first, as fire pits, like anything involving an open flame, can be dangerous.
- Fire pits should always be at least 10 feet away from any structure, flammable surface, or any combustible materials.
- Don’t overload your fire pit with fuel, be careful that it doesn’t flare up suddenly.
- Keep it on a flat surface in an open area, never under trees, roofs or patio covers.
- Always check the weather forecast, to avoid lighting fires in windy conditions. This can blow embers all over your garden.
- Check to make sure there are no burn bans in effect.
- Pick up leaves, dry vegetation, and anything else flammable within a 10-20 foot radius around your fire pit, to make sure your fire won’t accidentally spread.
- Use a spark screen so embers and sparks can’t escape the confines of your fire pit. This is especially important if there are children or pets around.
- Always keep a bucket of water, fire extinguisher, or garden hose nearby. You should always be prepared for an emergency before even starting the fire.
- Keep all flammable liquids as far away from the fire as possible. Even without contact with the flames, extreme heat can cause these liquids to ignite, so make sure there is absolutely no lighter fluid or gasoline in the area.
- Don’t use any sort of aid like lighter fluid to start your fire. These can cause your fire to behave unpredictably and can be incredibly dangerous. Use kindling to start the fire and build it up in a manageable and controlled manner, using only seasoned dry firewood and charcoal.
- Protect yourself by keeping a safe distance from the fire at all times. Use a poker or log-grabber if you need to move anything around, and never move your fire pit when it isn’t completely cold.
- Keep a first aid kit nearby to treat any minor burns.
- Never leave any sort of fire unattended, even the smallest fire can grow quickly and become dangerous without supervision.
- If you have a fire that escapes your fire pit or becomes out of control, call 911 immediately.
Fire pit safety do’s and don’ts
Do: Build your fire pit on a level surface.
When the ground is level and even it reduces the risk of fire escaping beyond your pit.
Do: Keep your fire at a safe distance, from your home, trees, fences, and of course yourself, to avoid doing damage.
Don’t: Use gasoline or lighter fluid, such fuels can cause your fire to become out of control in a matter of seconds. Instead, always use dry wood as kindling, and never build beyond the confines of the edge of your fire pit.
Do: Monitor any guests around the fire pit. Maintain that any visitors keep a proper distance and aren’t doing anything which might be considered unsafe- and always keep close tabs on children and pets.
Don’t: Use river stones to built your fire circle. Smooth stones originating from river beds may look pretty for building your fire circle, but they absorb moisture over time and the rapid heating of these with an open fire can actually cause them to explode. Instead of this dangerous option, use rough, dry stones from the ground around you.
Do: Check the weather report, every time before deciding to light a fire. Always avoid using your fire pit on windy days, since the flames or embers could spread to your home, or surrounding trees, endangering the wildlife. This is how many wildfires or forest fires can begin.
Don’t: Leave the fire unattended at any time. Fire pits should be closely monitored by a responsible adult so that everyone can remain safe.
Do: Put out your fire safety. We’ve already outlined how to do this, so you should be an expert on properly extinguishing fires.
Do: Have an emergency plan in place. Always have a water or sand bucket, fire extinguisher, or garden hose close by at all times. The more prepared you are, the less likely something is to go wrong.
How to safely light a fire pit
As you now know, using lighter fluid, gasoline, or any other chemical fire starter can be both bad for your safety, and bad for your fire pit. Follow our steps to safely and effectively light your fire pit, and then you can get on with the fun and revelry that comes along with it.
Fire pits provide an excellent means of staying warm, cooking food, and are a great way to pass the time, sitting around one on a summer evening. Once you know the basics of laying a fire and keeping it burning, it should blaze happily while you sit back and watch it crackle.
Step 1: Gather the tinder, kindling, and firewood or fuel.
Some great things you can use for tinder include old newspapers, dry pine needles or straw. Kindling usually consists of thin sticks and twigs, but if you don’t have these you can use splinters off larger pieces of wood.
For your main fuel, dry locally sourced firewood is best, this is what will actually keep your fire going once it’s lit. You’ll need approximately one armful of each kindling and tinder, and enough firewood to keep your fire going as long as is desired. One substantial dry log will burn for 45 minutes on average.
Step 2: Lay down one or two handfuls of tinder, in the center of your fire pit.
On top of this, place four or five pieces of kindling, try to arrange them in a teepee fashion, so they meet in the center above the tinder.
Step 3: Light a match and hold it to the tinder.
Watch as the flames reach up to the kindling and they begin to light on fire. If the flames look like they struggling, you can blow very gently on them from a safe distance to add more oxygen, but make sure to do this very carefully so as not to spread around any hot embers or ash.
Step 4: If you feel like you need it, add a little more kindling, to ensure the flames are fully established.
The next step is to add the smallest pieces of firewood or fuel. Carefully place them on top of the burning kindling. You can expect the kindling to collapse over the top of the tinder- this will begin to create the embers you need to keep your fire going.
Step 5: Gradually add additional pieces or fuel and firewood- here you can slowly increase their size.
If the flames begin to wane, simply add some additional pieces of tinder and kindling to give the fire some easy fuel, until the larger pieces of firewood fully catch fire. You can keep adding firewood until your fire is as big as you require, just be careful to keep it under control, and of course under supervision at all times.
Step 6: When you’re done having fun with your fire pit, safely extinguish it.
By using the instructions above, and always follow proper fire safety guidelines.
Now you know how to put out a fire pit safely, you’re ready to enjoy your next backyard camping trip. There’s so much enjoyment to be had from fire pits and outdoor fireplaces, and many life-lasting family memories to be made. Remember the safety guidelines, and always be prepared for an emergency. Forest fires in the US cause so much wildlife devastation every year, so read up on the fire safety guidelines to make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect our beautiful environment.
Wait a few extra minutes when extinguishing your campfire rather than leaving straight away. You can take the time to eat the last leftover s’more and this way you can leave with peace of mind rather than having to worry if you put out your fire pit properly. Remember, fire safety is everyone’s responsibility.