Anyone who has a wood-burning fire pit knows how relaxing it is to unwind with the crackle and warmth of a good campfire at the end of the day.
While you probably know that the safest thing to burn in your firepit is firewood explicitly cut for the purpose of burning, we've seen clients test out unusual ideas for lighting fires or fuel before. There are certain dangerous items you’ll definitely want to avoid burning in a fire pit (or any kind of fire, for that matter).
We’ve already written about general fire safety tips, but here we’d like to focus on less-than-obvious dangers hiding in certain fire fuels.
Hidden toxins that are released through burning are especially tricky to identify. 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 gases that may cause cancer or other illnesses over long exposure. Some poisons may also be left as residues in the ash, making them dangerous to handle.
Avoid burning these dangerous items in your fire pit:
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!)
Pressure-treated wood may be marked as such, and it may have a green tint to it. However, this tint can fade over time, so don’t rely on that marker alone.
Do not burn these types of wood:
- Railroad ties
- Deck lumber
- Painted or stained wood
- Most shipping pallets (here’s how to identify which pallets are treated)
- Old/found lumber
- Driftwood (though not treated in a traditional sense, driftwood may release carcinogenic salt compounds)
Untreated plywood, on the other hand, is fine. So if you want to burn some scraps left over from a DIY project, go for it. But if you’re not sure if the wood’s been treated, or if it’s just been sitting around in the shed for a decade, don’t risk it!
Don’t burn rubber, old paper, plastics, trash bags or other garbage. Some items can release toxins or pollutants into the air, and they often make an unpleasant smell besides.
Hopefully you have enough sense not to throw explosive items such as batteries and aerosol cans into the fire directly. But if you have a bad habit of burning trash bags, these items could be hidden inside and could cause injury.
Paper and cardboard
We know, we know—it’s fun to watch a pizza box go up in flames. However, cardboard and paper can create huge flakes of smoldering ash that can travel quickly towards nearby brush, trees and houses.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and/or poison sumac
Be very careful with wood you collect from someone’s property, since there could be poison ivy vines wrapped around it. (These can be harder to spot in the winter, when their leaves are gone, but the poisonous oils are still alive and well!)
You know how bad the reaction can be when these oils are exposed to your skin. Now imagine it in your lungs. Enough said.
Lighter fluid or gasoline
We know it’s tempting to play pyro and get a dramatic blaze going with a little help from an accelerant. But this kind of fire can get out of hand in seconds, potentially destroying property and hurting people. So please, just don't!
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. We want you and your family to stay safe and enjoy your fire pit for years to come!
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