Fire pit safety tips from Consumer Reports as cooler fall weather approaches

With many people staying close to home and social distancing, it's no wonder online searches for fire pits have been twice as high compared to previous years.

Gathering around a fire is the perfect summer into fall activity. It's festive, fun and relatively inexpensive. But every year more than 5,000 people end up in the emergency room with fire pit or outdoor heater related injuries.

The experts at Consumer Reports share some fire pit safety tips to prevent those accidents from happening.

"Ideally, you want to place fire pits or chimneys away from any structures - your house, any sheds, anything that could possibly burn. Go at least ten feet away and preferably up to 25 feet," said Tobie Stanger, Consumer Reports' Home Editor.

Raising your fire pit off of the ground is ideal. But be sure to follow the maker's instructions about how high it should be, and what surfaces can be underneath.

"You want to keep the fire away from anything natural that can burn - trees, bushes and so forth. Clear overhead so the smoke can rise up. Keep in mind, you don't need spark to start a fire. If the brush is dry and brittle enough, the heat alone can ignite it," said Stanger.

CR said different types of wood create different types of fires. Avoid softer woods like pine or cedar because they tend to smoke and spark. Instead, choose woods that burn longer like hickory, oak or ash.

"And the best thing about hickory is that it has that wonderful campfire smell," said Stanger.

Once you've got a crackling fire, place a spark screen on top of the pit and keep a garden hose nearby to handle anything that gets out of control.

When it's time to call it a night, spread out the coals, ash, and any unburnt logs in the thinnest layer possible. Then, set your garden hose nozzle to a wide-spray and saturate the area until the embers die.

CR said, unless you're too far away from a hose and there's no alternative, never use a bucket of water to put out your fire. Dumping water on a wood-burning fire forms a hard crust on top which can leave hot coals still burning underneath.
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