Crisp air, pumpkins, fresh-picked apples, and the roaring flames of a fire pit at home are sure signs of fall. With warm days and cool nights, it’s only natural to want to spend time outside at home enjoying an evening under an outdoor heater or next to a fire pit.
While many people are comfortable around it, it’s important to remember that fires and open flames are still dangerous and can act unpredictably.
“Homeowners need to be aware of the potential for some kind of a disaster, that an uncontrolled fire can start,” says Rebecca Serratos, the emergency services manager of Paul Davis of Northeast Indiana. “Fire pit and outdoor heater safety is about awareness and paying attention to the environment, the weather, and your surroundings to stay safe.”
We put together a few tips to help keep you (and your home) safe from disaster while you enjoy all this season has to offer.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Open flames should always be kept far away from your house or any other structures. Embers, sparks, flames, and heat can damage your buildings or, worse, cause them to catch fire.
“I would recommend that you’re probably at least 10 feet away from the house and any out buildings for fire pits and outdoor heaters,” Serratos says. “That will help keep a good distance to help prevent an accidental fire.”
It may seem obvious to not put a fire pit directly under your eaves, but it may seem less obvious with an outdoor heater. Depending on the type of heater you have, though, you could be dealing with small, open flames or, at the very least, a hot heating element. Excess heat from either can melt your siding, your soffit, and your fascia.
It’s also important to think about other objects in the space of your fire pit or outdoor heater, too. Even if you’re 10 feet from your house, make sure to look up and see if there are overhanging limbs. You also want to keep in mind the size of the fire you’re creating, too. Part of that depends on where you live.
“Your fire will be much smaller inside a city than it would be in the country,” Serratos says. “But, if your flames are licking the trees or starting to spread into the grass, you’ve got too big of a fire.”
UNDERSTAND YOUR FUEL SOURCE
When it comes to your outdoor heater, you’re likely going to be using either propane fuel or electricity.
An electric heater will be easier to operate, but may not get as warm as you would like. On the other hand, a propane heater will get hot but will require routine maintenance and fuel refills.
“With a gas fuel source, make sure you are treating it just like you would the propane that you get for your grill,” Serratos says. “Be aware of all of the connections on your device and that you’re checking them regularly, check your hose fittings to make sure there’s not a leak, and make sure you turn off the fuel supply when you’re done using it.”
Read over your owner’s manual and make sure that you’re operating and maintaining your outdoor heater correctly.
Fire pits will generally be burning wood as a primary fuel source, but be cautious about your starting fuel source.
The best starting fuel source is kindling or fire sticks. Newspaper is an acceptable source, too, but you should avoid using too much — paper floats upward as it burns and can cause a fire to spread. Never use an accelerant like lighter fluid or gasoline because it can flare up and cause burns and start a fire outside of your pit.
CHECK THE WEATHER
Mother Nature is a huge factor when it comes to safely enjoying fire pits and outdoor heaters. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the weather in general if you plan to spend time around your fire pit or outdoor heater.
While many outdoor heaters come with some form of weather protection, none can stand up to a strong wind. The same is true of fire pits. Wind can carry embers long distances and can easily start large-scale fires.
“Feeling the wind will give you a pretty good idea of the conditions in your area. But I’d still check your weather app or the Weather Channel and make sure there’s not a wind advisory. Because if there is, you definitely don’t want to start your fire pit,” Serratos says. “Even if you’ve already started your fire pit and you can see that the wind has picked up and the embers are flying higher and they’re going toward the roof line of your house — or even worse into your neighbor’s yard and close to their house — it’s a good idea to extinguish your fire pit.”
Drought conditions are another major weather factor to watch for. When coupled with windy conditions, you’re inviting disaster.
“Droughts make the grass and vegetation a lot drier, and that can easily start a fire and cause it to spread quickly,” Serratos says. “If you’re under any kind of alert for a drought advisory then definitely do not use a fire pit and be careful with your outdoor heaters because they can spark pretty quickly. If there’s been a drought or a wind advisory, then you don’t want to start a fire pit with anything.”
NEVER LEAVE IT UNATTENDED
Having an outdoor heater or starting a fire in a fire pit comes with a level of responsibility.
Open flames are a hazard toward children, pets, and even adults who aren’t paying enough attention. Fire can seriously injure a person or animal in a short amount of time, so make sure children and pets keep their distance.
For that reason, always designate someone to watch over the fire. It can be tempting to run back in the house quickly for a blanket or to refill a drink, but you should never leave a fire completely unattended.
“There’s just too many things that could happen. It could start to get out of control if conditions change,” Serratos says. “If a fire starts — even in the grass — it can still spread. It can spread to your plants outside and into your house and other areas. If you’re not paying attention to it and nobody is around it then put it out.”
EXTINGUISH IT PROPERLY
To properly extinguish your fire pit, you’ll need to do a little advanced preparation. Fire only lives with a fuel source, so stop putting additional logs into the pit around an hour or so before you plan to end the evening. Let the fire burn down to embers naturally.
Bear in mind that the embers will still be hot and can reignite a fire if not extinguished properly. When you’re finished with your fire for the evening, use water from a bucket or house to douse the embers. Hot steam will rise from the ashes, so don’t put your face directly over the fire pit. Continue adding water until no sizzling sounds are heard.
Stir the remaining ashes to make sure that the fire is completely out. Survey the area around your fire pit to make sure no embers have escaped, which could ignite while you’re inside.
If you don’t have access to water where your fire pit is located, sand or dirt can be used instead.
No matter how safe you are, fire can still escape your fire pit or your outdoor heater could set something ablaze. Be prepared by having an ABC fire extinguisher at the ready.
“Have a fire extinguisher ready to go next to you so that if something does happen you can put it out quickly,” Serratos says. “If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, have some water to put it out.”
If a fire does break out, it’s important to understand how to effectively use your fire extinguisher by using the P.A.S.S. method. The P.A.S.S. method stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. The first thing you want to do is pull out the pin that keeps the spray nozzle open. Then you’re going to aim it at the fire, and squeeze the handle while sweeping back and forth at the base of the fire.
Just like any piece of equipment, your fire extinguisher needs to be checked occasionally to make sure it’s in proper working condition.
“I’d recommend having your fire extinguisher checked if you haven’t used it in a while — if it’s been sitting in your garage or something for a couple of years,” Serratos says. “You either want to have it tested or replace it because it can lose its efficacy over time.”
It’s good practice to have a fire extinguisher at least on every level of your home as well as in your garage.
WHAT TO DO IF A FIRE DAMAGES YOUR HOME
If you’ve experienced a fire in your home, the restoration experts at Paul Davis of Northeast Indiana can help. Our team is available 24/7 to get your home back in order, no matter when disaster strikes. For more information, call us today at 260-436-7510.