As the New Year approaches and the weather continues to stay cool in the evenings, you may be preparing for a bonfire or an outdoor gathering around a fire pit in your backyard—or you already have and are planning another.

As a homeowner, there are a few important things to consider before lighting the fire—considerations you may not have made because they come from the perspective of a home inspector.

Fire Pit Safety

Proper Placement of Fire Pit

Home inspections are about more than finding issues with a home; they are about checking key components of a home so that the buyer or current homeowner knows the home is safe to be in. One of the things we note during an inspection is the proximity of dangerous factors around the home. Tree branches hanging over the roof, bushes too high or close to the home (inviting bugs or burglars), and the proximity of a fire pit. Fire pits can lead to accidental fires, so it is important to ensure the ground is level and no foliage is nearby that could catch fire. Ideally, the fire pit should have a radius of 15 feet clear of the home or other objects—and about the same clearance above it.

Getting the Fire Started

When you are ready to start your fire, knowing it is in a safe place, be sure to avoid hazards when igniting your bonfire. Do not use wet wood; the best wood for a bonfire is one that has been “seasoned,” dried out and hardened, for a minimum of six months. This is because softer wood generates more sparks and thus, is a higher risk for a potential fire incident. Never use lighter fluid, gas, or other accelerants to start or reignite your fire, or use the fire to burn these materials off. You should also avoid burning other materials, like plastic, that could potentially release toxins in the smore or light the fire (or keep it burning) when it is windy.

Be Prepared For Fire Safety Measures

Even if you were never a Scout, being prepared for fire safety—acting appropriately when an incident occurs—is vital. Have a fire extinguisher on hand, a hose, or a bucket of sand nearby in the event you need to extinguish the fire quickly.

Ensure Your Bonfire is Fully Extinguished

Before ending the night and heading to bed, you should make sure your fire is completely out and there is not a chance of the embers reigniting when you are not present. How you extinguish your fire will depend on your fire pit. Some store-bought ones may have specific instructions on how to extinguish the fire without damaging the fire pit. If it is man-made and you did not burn any improper material, fully smothering the pit with sand or saturating the ground are common methods. If you are unsure how to safely extinguish your fire pit, consult with your local fire department.