Don't Add Fuel To The Fire - Backyard Fire Pit Safety Tips

Posted by Shelly Salomon on Jul 28, 2023 11:50:41 AM

fire pit safetyAdding a custom fire pit to your backyard brings a delightful touch, offering the perfect setting to unwind and enjoy the soothing crackle and warmth of a campfire. However, safety should always be a top priority when dealing with fire.

In earlier posts, we've discussed essential fire pit safety guidelines and the optimal methods for constructing an outdoor fireplace. Now, let's shift our attention to the lesser-known hazards lurking in certain fire fuels.

Why Is Burning Certain Materials in an Outdoor Fire Pit Dangerous?

While watching a fire pit burn can be enjoyable and even exciting, it's crucial to recognize its potential impact on health, the environment, and the backyard fire pit itself.

  • Burning certain materials can release toxic fumes. Even if you don’t notice a change in the color or odor of the smoke, you may still be exposing yourself and your family to harmful gasses that could lead to long-term health issues.
  • Poisonous substances can leave behind residues or ashes that may be hazardous to handle or dispose of properly.
  • Some materials pose the risk of rapid, uncontrollable fire spread and the danger of explosions or popping, which can cause injuries or fires.
  • Certain substances can generate intense heat or corrosive elements, potentially damaging the fire pit and diminishing its safety and lifespan.

Also, please bear in mind that certain materials are strictly prohibited from burning altogether, including plastic and pressure-treated wood.

Avoid Burning These Dangerous Items in Your Outdoor Fire Pit:

Accelerants (lighter fluid or gasoline)
This is probably the most obvious item on the list, yet we’ve seen clients testing unconventional ideas for lighting fires or fuel before. 

We understand the temptation to create a dramatic blaze by incorporating flammable liquids or fuels. However, such actions can get out of hand too quickly. What starts as a warm, comforting flame can escalate into a dangerous, unpredictable, and explosive situation within seconds. This poses significant damage to the backyard fire pit and harm to nearby people.

Paper and Cardboard
Have you ever casually disposed of a pizza box by tossing it into your backyard fire pit? If so, it's time to rethink this habit.

Burning cardboard and paper materials, such as old newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and colored gift-wrapping paper, can produce large, smoldering ash flakes that can rapidly spread toward nearby brush, trees, and houses. Interestingly enough, according to the USDA Forest Service, the ink used in printing on paper or cardboard releases toxic fumes when burned. Additionally, glossy magazines often contain plastic-based materials in their coating, releasing even more harmful toxins when ignited.

Trash: Rubber, Plastic, and Batteries
Though it may be common to dispose of plastic bottles, ziplock bags, and even tires by tossing them into the fire, burning trash is one of the worst things you can do in your backyard fire pit. These materials, along with batteries and aerosol cans, emit toxic chemicals like dioxins, furans, and styrene gas into the air, posing serious health and environmental risks. As previously stated, burning plastic is harmful to you and illegal due to its detrimental impact on our planet.

Treated Wood
Lumber that’s designed for outdoor construction is often pressure-treated or chemically preserved to prevent rotting in wet conditions. The process of burning can release chemicals that are dangerous to inhale. Older lumber, for example, may even contain arsenic!. These types of wood include:\

  • Railroad ties
  • Deck lumber
  • Painted or stained wood
  • Most shipping pallets
  • Old/found lumber
  • Driftwood (though not treated in a traditional sense, driftwood may release carcinogenic salt compounds)

When dealing with wood that you're unsure of its treatment or that has been stored for an extended period, it's best to take extra caution. For instance, while pressure-treated wood may be marked with a green tint, this tint can fade over time. Therefore, it's essential not to rely solely on the color marker to determine if the wood is safe for burning.

MDF or Particleboard Furniture 
While old, unused wooden furniture may appear to be a straightforward choice for your backyard fire pit, it's essential to exercise caution. Nowadays, many furniture pieces, particularly budget-friendly ones, are made with particle board or often medium-density fibreboard (MDF). These materials consist of wood combined with wax and synthetic resin, bonded together with a potent adhesive to cut down on manufacturing expenses.

However, the adhesive used in these materials is unsuitable and unsafe for burning. When burned, it releases hazardous and potentially toxic chemicals into the air, posing risks to both health and the environment.

Weeds: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac
The biggest problem about burning these weeds in your backyard fire pit is that it can be done accidentally. For instance, poison ivy vines may intertwine with fallen branches and wood you innocently toss into the fire. During winter, when the vine loses its leaves, it becomes challenging to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous materials. So, just so you know, the poisonous oils remain active even in the dried leaves!

Specifically, weeds like ivy or sumac contain oils that release harmful fumes when burned. These fumes can irritate the lungs and trigger severe allergic reactions, particularly in individuals with respiratory issues. Therefore, exercise utmost caution, especially when collecting wood from someone else's property.

Other Items to Avoid

There are a few other items that are not dangerous to burn, per se, but can also cause issues. These include:
  • Food scraps
  • Yard clippings (which can trigger allergies)
  • Green or soft woods (which produce a lot of smoke and sparks)

To stay on the safe side, stick to burning untreated hardwoods, local firewood, natural kindling (such as twigs), and/or fire starter logs designed for outdoor use.

Looking to Improve Your Backyard?

In conclusion, custom fire pits are the focal point of many backyards, bringing loved ones together. However, responsible usage is crucial to maintain its condition and ensure personal safety.

To enhance your outdoor fire pit experience, explore backyard fire pit landscaping ideas and fireplace maintenance tips. If you dream of a new fire pit to elevate your outdoor lifestyle, contact us at (888) 747-4554 or click the banner below for a free estimate. We're here to bring your fire pit vision to life!

Enjoy your backyard again. Request a free design estimate. 

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Topics: Fire Pits, Fire Tables, & Fireplaces