Your new fire pit is the star of your backyard. During the summer, neighbors gather around to roast hot dogs and share stories. During the winter, you and your spouse cuddle up near the fire and enjoy a cup of cocoa together. No matter the season, your fire pit helps build fond memories.
However, if you have young children, your fire pit may pose a safety hazard. Tiny fingers and toes can easily burn, and the last thing you want is a trip to the emergency room.
So what can you do to let your children in on the fun while still staying safe?
Read Safety Instructions
Many homeowners assume that fire pits don’t need their own instructions. Simply toss on a few logs, light a match, and it’s good to go.
However, fire pits come in varying shapes, sizes, and models. A wood burning fire pit will have different instructions than a propane or a gel fuel fire pit. If you’re using a newly installed outdoor fire pit for the first time, take a few minutes to read the user manual to ensure safety.
Create a Safe Zone
Use chalk, spray paint, bricks, or stones to create a three-foot circle around your fire pit. Then explain to your children that they should not cross that circle unless you or another adult can watch them closely.
If your children are too young to understand the boundaries you set, create a safe play area away from the fire. Stock it with plenty of toys appropriate for your children’s age as well as child-friendly snacks and drinks.
If necessary, block off the fire pit with portable child fencing and gates so only adults can access the area. And ask older children and guests to keep a close eye on the toddlers.
Keep in mind that even if you fence off the area, you should never leave the fire unattended.
Lend a Helping Hand
Young children may still want to roast their own marshmallows and other treats. If you feel it appropriate, you can invite your children into the circle to help you cook the food.
Assist your child as he or she places the marshmallow, hot dog, or other snack on the roasting stick. Then keep him or her in your lap and support your child’s hand as he or she holds the stick over the fire.
If your children are a bit older, you don’t have to hold them by the hand. But you should still watch them closely as they cook. As you observe their cooking, make sure the roasting stick is long enough to keep a safe distance between the fire pit and your child. Metal coat hangers may seem like a good makeshift choice, but they are typically not long enough for children to reach the flames without burning their fingers.
Keep Flammable Materials Out of Reach
Your children watch everything you do. If you use matches, lighter fluid, and kindling to start the fire, your children might assume that it’s okay for them to put these items on the fire as well. It only takes a few moments for your child to grab any of these items and add them to the flames, so keep them well out of reach.
However, you’ll want to keep the following items on hand in case of an emergency:
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit
- Water bucket or hose
- Sand and dirt
If you’re particularly worried about burns, consider purchasing a fire blanket as well. These blankets consist of flame-retardant material which you can use to smother small flames.
Extinguish the Fire Thoroughly
Fire pit safety doesn’t end when the last flames flicker out. Hot coals can still cause burns and can ignite materials if you’re not careful.
When it’s time to call it a night, allow the wood to burn completely to ash. Pour lots of water on the fire to drown all the embers continue to pour until the hissing stops. If necessary, stir in sand and dirt to smother the remaining embers and ashes.
Coals can remain hot for more than 24 hours after you extinguish the fire. If you have an in-ground fire pit, place a cover over the fire pit to prevent guests and children from stepping on the coals. For above-ground fire pits, create a barrier (with chairs or other materials) to keep children away from the area until it’s completely cool.
Expect the Best but Prepare for the Worst
With these tips, you and your family can stay safe around your outdoor fire pit. However, accidents can and often do happen, despite the best safety precautions.
Just in case, brush up on your emergency first aid techniques for treating burns, and save emergency numbers in your smartphone. A little preparation now will go a long way should the worst occur.