“Can I have a fire pit in my backyard?” So many people want to know the rules about an open fire at home. Gathering around a crackling backyard fire pit can be the perfect way to enjoy a family night or waste away a few hours with friends.
But open burns aren’t allowed in all areas, regardless of how well you contain the open flames. Therefore, it is crucial to check local laws to determine the local ordinances in your area regarding the burning of materials. Keep reading to learn the rules about how to enjoy backyard fires.
Types of Backyard Fires
There are several types of backyard fires, some not in a backyard fire pit. You can also have an open fire from a barbeque grill or barbeque pit, which requires fire safety and obeying fire pit laws.
The definition of recreational fires varies by location, but all areas have some commonalities. For example, a recreational fire can be for pleasure, cooking, celebrations, ceremonial, religion, or warmth.
Recreational fires use standard fuel – tinder, kindling, wood – and burn in an open area, such as a bonfire, fire pit, or campfire. You can reduce particle pollution – a mixture of fine particles and the gases in the smoke – by using dry, seasoned wood with a 20% moisture content.
However, check your area’s rules for regulations on the fire size and the distance the fire has to be from structures. Most fire codes allow for a burn area no larger than three feet wide and two feet tall.
Open fires are when the smoke goes into the air without passing through a chimney or structure. Many municipalities, including New York City, have a ban on open burning. Fire pits can also classify as open fires, although more locations allow these because the fire stays off the ground.
Before setting an open fire, check with your county government for burn bans and permit requirements. Most open fires require a burn permit, also a need for non-recreational fires used for yard waste disposal.
A fire marshal or your local fire department can give you safety tips on setting an open fire safely. Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby and stay safe from the open flames to keep the fire under control.
You Might Also Be Wondering: Can I put a Fire Pit on my Deck?
Barbecue Grills and Pits
Food cooked on barbecue grills or in barbecue pits helps infuse your food with the taste and aroma of smoke. And it’s allowed in all areas, granted you keep 15 feet from hazards like flammable materials and structures. Natural gas and LP grills and pits need ten feet of free space.
You can start a barbecue grill and cook with various fuel sources, including charcoal, natural gas or propane, or wood lit with lighter fluid. Charcoal is a less preferred method due to becoming coals, which can be deceptive about looking extinguished.
Fire pits allow better safety and often meet fire district fire codes. However, the local ordinances regarding the operation and allowance of fire pits vary greatly by location.
For a fire pit to be acceptable for your backyard, it needs a fuel area under 3’ in diameter and 2’ in height.
Natural gas pits must be at least 10’ from all burning hazards. And portable pits need a larger clearance of 15 feet or more.
Local Laws and Regulations
The answer to can I build a fire in my backyard will change by where you live, the air quality, and environmental conditions. Dry climates with a proneness to wildfires have stricter rules regarding backyard burning.
Local laws also dictate the ordinances for the safe distance away from buildings or structures – 20 to 30 feet in most areas.
There may also be a requirement for the size of your fire. Anything under a 3’ diameter and height is typically a recreational fire and doesn’t require a permit.
However, if you want to burn yard debris, leaves, storm cleanup, construction cleanup, and other industrial purposes, it’s best to talk to a fire marshal or your local fire department.
What is a Burn Ban?
Burn bans are temporary restrictions that forbid a fire started by an open flame. It also applies to material that can cause uncontained ember release.
Burn bans usually go into place during drought or during the threat or existence of wildfires. Poor air quality and high air pollution can also cause a burn ban to go into effect.
Violations of a burn ban can result in monetary fines, legal actions, or jail time, depending on your local guidelines. Activities that can be off-limits during a prohibition include:
- Fire rings or pits
- Burn barrels
- Field burning
- Burning debris
Campfire Rules and Regulations
Campfires often have unique rules and regulations compared to other backyard fire types. So if you want a campfire in your backyard, first make sure you’re not under a burn ban or need a permit.
Your campfire site should be at least 15 feet from any structure or potential fire hazards. It’s also important to use seasoned wood.
There also might be regulations on the size of your fire – height and width – and how you keep it contained. The type of accelerant – a flammable liquid that makes the fire flare up – can also vary by area.
Fire Pit Laws
You also have to consider the regulations regarding using fire pits in your backyard. A fire pit is acceptable as long as you follow some safety precautions.
Fire codes allow you to use a fire pit with a fuel area no larger than 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall. There may also be special rules about the materials, height from the ground, and if you must keep your pit covered. Your municipal government can help you with the specifics.
Backyard Fire Pit Safety Tips
Fires destroy thousands of acres of land annually, harming ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and even human domains. Understanding standard fire safety can save you from being a statistic.
As of June 2022, there have been over 27,000 wildfires in the US, destroying over 1.9 million acres.
According to FEMA, out of 354,000 residential fires in 2019, 7.7% occurred from unintentional or careless acts, and 4.3% were due to open flames.
A few general safety tips for fire pit use include:
- Clear the area around your pit of any flammable materials like leaves, paper, sticks, etc.
- Don’t use gasoline, lighter fluid or any other type of petroleum-based accelerant to start or feed your fire.
- Never leave your fire unattended and make sure it’s fully extinguished before you go to bed or leave the area.
- Be mindful of local conditions that could cause your fire to spread, like high winds.
- Have a plan for what you’ll do if your fire gets out of control.Keep a water source close by in case you need to put out the fire quickly.
How to Put Out a Fire
Always extinguish a fire before leaving it unaccompanied. Embers can hide under the char and coals, giving the appearance of the fire being out only to blaze back up if the wind blows.
If you want to let your fire go out naturally, stop adding accelerant one hour before you want to put the fire out. Instead, use a fire poker, shovel, or another long utensil to move the fire debris around so that the coals don’t touch any large pieces of wood.
Then if you want the fire out quickly, you can spray the area with water, preferably using a hose and a spray nozzle. A direct stream of water can cause sparks to spread. Stir the remains once more to make sure everything gets saturated.
You can also cover smoldering embers with sand or dirt for metal fire pits or fires that you can’t reach with a water hose.
A final method of putting out a backyard fire is with a snuffer. Many fire pits come with snuffers – lids – which suffocate the fire.
What Can You Burn?
When wondering can I have a fire pit in my backyard, you also want to know what materials you can burn.
It’s safe to burn natural materials like dried untreated wood, grass clippings, and yard debris, like sticks and twigs. You can also use fire starters like tinder, firewood, starter logs, and lighter fluid.
However, don’t burn construction waste, garbage, green wood, plastic, or chemicals. Animal remains, manure, plastic, rubber, or wood that is rotted, moldy, diseased, wet, or with glue or isn’t full – particle board or plywood – also is not safe, even for outdoor burning.
Finally, you can’t burn household trash – foam, cardboard, aerosol cans, or products with colored ink on wrappers, magazines, or boxes. And never start a fire with gasoline or oil.
While a backyard fire pit seems like so much fun, knowing the laws and regulations for backyard burning can save you from costly fines or legal penalties.
It’s also super important that you take care to follow best practices for safety to avoid any accidents.
It’s wise to invest a bit of time to create an area that adheres to all the fire regulations and safety suggestions before using your fire pit, so you can relax and enjoy your time around the fire knowing you are prepared.