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How to Use Your Portable Outdoor Firepit Properly

How to Use Your Portable Outdoor Firepit Properly


Gathering around a backyard fire is one of the best ways to entertain at home, especially in the spring and fall. Firepits provide cozy warmth, an ambient light source and a natural focal point in your yard. Not to mention, it also is a great place to toast marshmallows or flame-broil some hot dogs.

Thanks to portable outdoor firepits, it's easier than ever to bring those friendly flames to any yard or tailgate. Before you get started, here are some helpful tips for using a firepit properly.

Outdoor firepit in use

Setting Up

Your portable firepit shouldn't take long to set up, but you should still take proper precaution.

Placement is a huge factor for firepit safety. Make sure to place it on a a flat, stable surface. You should also make sure it sits on non-combustible, materials like brick, gravel, paving stones or concrete. Think twice about using them on decks or porches, since drifting embers can set certain types of wood ablaze.

Never put your pit underneath a roof, canopy or low-hanging branches. Doing this can cause additional fires, heat damage and ventilation problems. It also is a good idea to keep the firepit 10 or more feet away from any structures or adjacent properties. In fact, some neighborhoods have strict laws or ordinances that require this.

Do a little preparatory housekeeping of the space as well. Remove any stray combustible materials like dead leaves or pine needles, and be sure to have extinguishing materials nearby, such as a bucket of water and a garden hose. Double check the heat won't damage your patio furniture, fire poker or utensils you plan on using, and have a plan for safely disposing of ashes afterward.

Getting the Fire Started

Everyone has their own personal flair when it comes to building a fire, and many of these methods work when starting a fire in an outdoor pit. However, there are a few non-negotiable safety rules:

1. Never use lighter fluid or other flammable liquids to start the fire. If you need some help, try a commercial fire stick kindling. 

2. Don't burn pressure-treated wood or particle board-type products. These materials will release harmful fumes, and could produce larger flames than your equipment is meant to handle. 

3. Don't over-fuel the firepit, keep flames only at the size you need.

From there, the general concept of building a fire doesn't change much. First, place some kindling at the bottom of the pit, and then arrange a structure of larger sticks or logs around it. The kindling, once ignited with a match or lighter, will need to burn long enough for the larger pieces of wood to catch fire. Use a fire-safe poker to shift coals and ashes as needed. Some popular approaches include using the larger logs to build a teepee, log cabin or star shape around the kindling.

Outdoor firepit with a poker

You'll want to take extra care to keep the fire comfortable. Avoid softer, sappier woods like pine and cedar. These woods are more likely to "pop" when burning and send smoke and embers into the air. You also can use a metal grill or mesh grate to cover the pit. Both not only help block flyaway sparks and contain the fire, but they also provide an ideal cooking surface for food.

Extinguishing the Fire Pit

The standard procedure for putting out a fire is to first spread the burning materials out with a poker, which prompts the flames to start shrinking naturally. Once the larger flames have subsided, you can add water or sand to smother the fire little by little, while continually spreading out the ashes. Extinguishing the flame gradually helps keep steam and smoke under control.

While extinguishing the flame, make sure all embers have died out. Hidden embers can re-ignite up to two to three days later. Luckily, thorough watering and stirring is all it takes to stop the burning.

When it's time to dispose the ashes, make sure to deposit them in a safe place. Generally, this means an empty, metal fireproof container, but you should check to see if there are special requirements for your neighborhood. Also, never pour hot ashes into your household trash can or in a combustible container.

If you need to move your firepit, wait until it has ample time to cool down, so you don't burn yourself or cause unwanted heat damage.

Lastly, a note for those of us less handy with flames: if you prefer outdoor firepits that require less hands-on work, consider one that is gas or gel-fueled rather than wood-burning. Some of these models operate by a switch, and you can adjust flame heights with the turn of a dial.

Learn how to build an outdoor firepit here.