As human beings, there are many things that bring us together, but nothing is quite so primal – and satisfying – as gathering with friends and family around a crackling fire. Whether you are toasting marshmallows with the kids, roasting a pig on a spit with friends, or fending off the stark winds that roar in at night from the Spring Mountains and chill Las Vegas patios everywhere, a backyard fire pit awakens something ancient in us that speaks of belonging and of loving, communal gathering with friends and family.
Well, maybe we’re waxing a bit lyrical, but backyard fire pits sure are nice to have at night when the desert cools like a griddle with the propane switched off. However, that enjoyment can quickly turn to tragedy if you don’t observe good safety practices.
Every year, far too many Americans suffer fire pit injuries or worse – their humble barbecues turn into raging house fires. If you plan to have one of the Las Vegas patios lit up with a fire pit this year, it’s essential that you know how to keep you, your friends and your family safe. Here are some tips:
- Be very careful with DIY fire pits. Many folks like the idea of cordoning off a small area in the backyard with some rocks, digging a hole and lighting a fire. It’s very basic, exceedingly cheap and can be finished within a couple hours’ work. However, if you aren’t careful, you could end up with a blaze that leaps up out of your intended area and becomes a safety hazard. If you build your own fire pit, ensure you take the following safety precautions (courtesy of Smokey the Bear):
- Clear a 10-foot diameter circle around the fire pit of all brush, grass and debris. That doesn’t mean 10 feet including the fire pit. That means 10 feet above and beyond the fire pit. Use a hoe to ensure there is nothing but dirt all around the pit.
- Make sure the pit is sufficiently deep. In order to contain a large blaze, your pit should be at least a foot deep.
- Be careful with the rocks you select for the ring. Crazy as it sounds, rocks in campfire rings can explode if they have are porous and contain water. There aren’t a lot of Las Vegas patios and backyards with wet rocks laying around (or wet anything laying around,) but nothing will ruin your party faster than exploding rock shrapnel. The safest rocks to use are hard, dry, and have a uniform color and grain.
- If you decide to buy a fire pit, make sure you purchase it from someone who knows their stuff. Fire science is a real thing, and purchasing any old fire pit from your local grocery store’s outdoor section can cause you problems down the line. Cheap materials, designs that are inappropriate for your backyard set-up or shoddy installation can lead to safety issues for you and your loved ones. Shop around on the Internet for a professional contractor with experience building fire pits, or find a local vendor that specializes in fire features for Las Vegas patios and backyards.
- Use the right materials to start your fire. To get your fire going, use tinder to catch kindling wood, and kindling to catch fuel on fire. One of the best explanations of how to build a fire on the Internet comes from a blog called The Art of Manliness (don’t worry – it’s perfectly friendly to women) and you can find it here. When selecting wood for your fire, stick with mesquite, fruit woods (like apple), cedar, oak, pinion, alder and hickory. You should never burn pressure-treated wood or wood that has been painted or treated with flame-retardant, because it contains toxins that are harmful to your health.
- Don’t build the fire too high. If you build a big bonfire, you greatly increase your chances of accidentally injuring someone or catching something else ablaze. Not to mention if the fire gets too big, you run the risk of ending up with a bunch of hippies, ravers and gearheads driving in from San Francisco to dance around it. Really, it happens. Just ask Reno.
- Pay attention to your environment. If the winds are really coming in strong, there is a chance that embers could blow off of your fire and catch something else in your backyard – especially during the dry season. Also, the city and county governments may have regulations or ordinances governing backyard burning during certain times of the year, so it’s important to stay current.
- Extinguish your fire safely. You should own a fire extinguisher and keep it handy in case of any problems that arise, but you don’t need to use it to put the fire out at the end of the night. Simply spread out the ashes and embers within your fire pit and let them cool for about fifteen minutes, then use a small amount of water and pour it gently on the ashes. Whatever you do, don’t just splash a bunch of water on your fire pit then head off to bed – if you didn’t extinguish all of the embers, it may spring to life again while you sleep.
Gabe Coeli has been writing about patio furniture for the past few years, and knows a thing or two about firepit safety from his own personal experience.