Safe fire pit use a matter of taking precautions: fire education officer

Enjoying a campfire’s crackle and dancing flames used to mean actually heading to the woods and setting up camp. Lately, the summertime romance of a cozy fire has come to urban and suburban neighbourhoods thanks to readily available fire receptacles, also known as fire pits.

However, mixing the city environment with an open fire carries risks, especially when it has been as dry as we’ve seen lately in southern Manitoba.

Leigh Gruener, a public education officer with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said a safe backyard fire experience begins with using a proper fire pit, one that has been carefully placed at least three metres away from structures and other possible hazards like overhanging branches or wires in your yard. After that, your pit needs to meet some basic design characteristics that help keep the fire in one place.

“What it comes down to is that you need to have an enclosed pit and the pit must have a mesh cover, or we call it a spark arrestor, on top of it. This is what keeps the sparks, the embers, the majority of them from flying out. Obviously, we don’t want them flying out and starting possible grass fires or forest fires.”

Gruener told CTV Morning Live that the pit should have a sturdy base, with at least one metre of space around it. This helps prevent it from falling over. Beyond design and placement, choosing the right fuel matters. Gruener says it is safe to burn only clean, dry and seasoned firewood. She cautioned against burning household garbage or debris you have collected from your yard. She also advised having safety equipment nearby to keep the fire under control and extinguish it.

“I have a hose or pail close. It can be water or sand in the pail. I have a fire extinguisher so there are different ways you can extinguish the fire. When you’re done, you need to make sure that fire is out.”

Gruener says backyard fire pits do not require any special city permits, but you must follow relevant burning and fire pit bylaws and recommendations, which you’ll find summarized in PDF form on the city’s website.

“So enjoy it, you know, Enjoy it at a safe distance. Do your marshmallows, do your hot dogs from a safe distance, but don’t do any playing around, running around, playing tag around the fire. That’s where we have possible emergencies happen.”