A dreamy addition to your outdoor dining experience, fire pits warm the immediate area and add the charm of fire to the night. They are also, however, open fires and need to be treated with the same care as a campfire. Nothing more than shallow metal or brick bowls filled with wood or charcoal, these popular accessories can become a nightmare if a few simple precautions are ignored.
There should be a ten-foot clearance between the fire pit and flammable materials, including your house. It should be placed flat on solid ground and, obviously, it needs to be in an open area. Just as you would not start a campfire under a tree, you do not want to place your fire pit under the roof or low-hanging trees in the yard.
It is preferrable to not use fire accelerants such as lighter fluid and gels to start your fire, and should never be added to a burning fire. Take the time to construct your fire properly, whether built top-down or in the traditional kindling-to-logs style, and get it going without an accelerant. If charcoal is the fuel, it is probably pre-treated with a fast-lighting agent, but if not, lighter fluid can be used.
If lighter fluid has to be used, thoroughly soak the charcoal for several minutes before it is lit. Then, just before putting a match to it, squirt a small amount of lighter fluid onto the charcoal, just enough to catch. Step away from the fire pit as soon as flame appears, watching to confirm that it is catching everywhere.
Once the fire has caught and is burning steadily, put the wire mesh cover on the fire pit. This will prevent sparks from flying into the air and yard and is a common sense safety measure. Remember to move unused charcoal, wood, and lighter fluid to an area at least ten feet away.
Never leave a fire pit unattended, and always keep a fire extinguisher handy. Familiarize yourself with the fire extinguisher, and do not wait to figure out how it works until you need it. A spray bottle full of water should also be kept near the fire pit and is usually sufficient to manage the fire.
Make sure that the fire pit is truly cool before going indoors for the night, checking for hot coals beneath cool ash. Spread out any coals that remain and slowly pour water over them for several minutes. At their centers, coals remain hot long after evidence of that heat is obvious so take extra care to confirm that they are cool.