There’s nothing quite like sitting in front of a crackling fire while enjoying the great outdoors. Whether you’re on a camping trip or in the comfort of your own back yard, it can be one life’s most simple pleasures. Some caution does need to be applied though, as there are always risks associated with open flames.
Statistically, people cause a great number of accidental fires outdoors every year. There are naturally occurring fires to be sure, but it is through human error or neglect that many of them are started. These incidences range from brush, grass and forest fires, to decks, boat houses and other structures catching fire. The causes are also varied and include the following:
- Open fires that are too big
- Improper disposal or extinguishing of hot embers & ash
- Careless use of cigarettes
- Not accounting for surrounding combustible material
- High winds and/or an overly dry environment
- Inadequate means of fire extinguishing available
Permits & The Law
Most regions have specific open air burn laws that need to be observed in order to maintain optimal fire safety. Always be sure to check with your local municipal office, campground administration or fire department for details. Depending on the type of fire that you plan on having, a permit may need to be issued for your address or location. These permits last for a specified time period, and include rules and regulations for proper burning. These details would include the size of the fire, allowable materials for burning, wind speed, times for burning, distance from structures, methods of extinguishing and notifications.
Even with a permit, you will not be able to stage an open burn if the area has been designated as a Restricted Fire Zone. This is a temporary measure that is put into place if conditions are particularly dry and if the number of fires may challenge the capacity of local fire fighting resources. These restrictions are normally well advertised, but it’s always a good idea to check this status before you attempt a brush burn, camp fire or even using your backyard fire pit.
Fire Safety Tips
Building an outdoor fire seems simple enough, but there are a lot of variables that can cause things to get out of hand pretty quickly if you’re not careful.
- Choose a site for your campfires that has a bare dirt or rock surface and that is sheltered from the wind. Keep it at least 3 meters from logs, stumps, trees and brush and be sure to clear away any dead leaves, pine needles and twigs etc. from around the fire area. Also keep it small at around 1 meter high and 1 meter wide. Placing large stones around the fire is also a good idea to help contain it and to retain the heat.
- As a general rule, never leave open fires unattended at any time
- Always keep young children away from open flames. They are naturally fascinated by fire and can easily get burned if they get too close.
- Keeping an effective means of extinguishing your fire close-by is a critical safety measure. This could be a bucket of water or sand, a shovel or a garden hose (or all of them). Be sure to put the fire out completely when you are finished and don’t just let it naturally burn down. Don’t underestimate what it takes to kill the fire and ensure that the ‘hiss’ and the smoke are fully finished. Remember that if it’s too hot to touch, then it’s too hot to leave.
- Maintain backyard fire pits on a flat, non-combustible surface and at least 3 meters from trees, shrubs, outdoor furniture, decks and building structures. Having a covered mesh type also helps to contain any sparks that might jump out. Since the fire is close to your home, you could also easily keep a fire extinguisher (minimum Class A) handy in case of an emergency.
- Build outdoor fires safely with the use of kindling and dry wood that is not too big for the fire pit area. In some cases, using a solid fire starter product is fine to get things going, but always avoid using flammable items such as gas, diesel or kerosene as they are unstable and can easily create a dangerous situation.
- For any kind of fire, never attempt to burn any items other than wood. That would include cans, glass or other types of trash.
- Remember that pressure treated wood should never be burned as part of a camp fire or in a fire pit. The chemicals (arsenic and chromium) the wood is treated with are toxic, and inhalation of the smoke is extremely dangerous.
- If you do smoke, always be sure to fully extinguish your cigarette in water or dirt and never simply flip it away from you when finished. This is especially important when in an area with dry ground material that could easily ignite.
Outdoor fire safety begins with common sense and following some simple safety rules. Don’t let your fun-filled night turn into an emergency situation.