Fire Pits – Top Safety Issues and What Different Features Mean

use fire pits safely

Fire Pits Add Warmth to Outdoor Gatherings, But Safety First.

With so many different types of fire pits available with a broad range of features and prices, there’s bound to be one that’s perfect for you.

Find out what to look for and compare when making your purchase decision, what fire pits may be dangerous (even recalled) and still are for sale online, and basic fire pit safety with this post.

We’ve also summarized this post in a video

link to youtube video

This Post is Summarized in our YouTube Video

Our store, recently added fire pits to our inventory and will soon offer more from new distributors.

Based on questions we’ve had from customers about how to use fire pits and different features, we’re posting a brief, but by no means all inclusive, list of safety tips.

Below these, we list what different features mean and what accessories are recommended, and which are completely optional.

Safety First

Before we go over different types of fire pits and options to look at as part of your purchase decisions, we want to review some safety basics.  Many of these were based on questions and comments we have received.

chiminea with stone surround, hearth

This is not a fire pit; it’s a chiminea which we’ll carry soon. It has a hearth and stone surround to meet local fire codes.

Fire Pits Should Not Be Used on Decks and Porches

One of our customers wanted a fire pit “strong enough for big fires on our deck.” Sorry, they don’t really exist. Fire pits are not safe for use on wooden decks.

It is true that certain types of outdoor fire places can be used on decks, but those usually are far more expensive than fire pits and generally incorporate fire protection measures such as stone hearths or surrounds. (We don’t currently have any in stock, but are finalizing arrangement

Fire pits can can be used on stone or non-flammable patios, but only if they are away from flammable materials: including the exterior walls of your home.

Most Fire Pits Are Designed to Burn Wood Only


If you want to use charcoal, use a charcoal grill. It’s safer and they also cost less than fire pits.

Charcoal, particularly charcoal with lighter fluid, burns much hotter than wood.  Most fire pits are not designed to burn charcoal.

Charcoal can damage the finish at best and weaken the fire pit at worst.  Fire pits designed to burn wood usually will note this in the product description, since it’s a added benefit.

Always Read the Instructions:  Along with protecting your warranty, use fire pits safely so you don’t maim or kill yourself, family or friends.

Whether your fire pit is made of or coated with copper, cast-iron iron,  or steel, read the instructions. Unless the instructions say the fire pit can burn charcoal, don’t burn charcoal in it.

You shouldn’t really use lighter fluid, gasoline  or other accelerants.  Start fires with newspapers and tinder.

Each years dozens of Americans are or critically injured when the fire travels up the stream, causing the container to explode in the hand of whomever is holding it and also endangering others. And people still do it. It’s a ticking time bomb of a very bad habit.

Be Very Careful When Choosing Gel Burning Fire Bowls/Fire Pits and Gel Fuel

Some Gel Burners Very Dangerous

Many Gel Fuels, Fire Bowls Recalled as Unsafe

While a responsible dealers won’t sell recalled items, items for sold all the times, including Amazon and eBay.

Are all gel burners unsafe? To some it’s a matter of opinion.

This is a fact:  There have been many voluntary recalls of gel fuel and gel burners due to severe safety issues.

Since these were all voluntary recall (99% of all recalls are “voluntary”), we’ve seen recalled models online with discounted prices as recently as today. A great deal? Hardly.

We do not sell gel burners at this time. For more information about their safety and warnings about them, click here for post by Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security and the Gel Fuel Safety Tips from the Commonwealth’s State Fire Marshal.

Don’t Overload the Fire Pit with Too Much Wood

Any fire place or fire pit is built will only safely hold a certain amount of wood; some fire pits will come with instructions that specify how much wood is recommended; others do not.

If the instructions don’t recommend how much to use, use common sense.  The logs should not be packed tightly (this will just make the fire hard to start and harder to keep burning since fire needs air.

  • Do not stack logs above the top of the fire pit.
  • Do not stack logs so high that the protective spark screen can’t be used.
  • It’s best to start a small fire anyway, and then add logs. Just don’t overdo it.
  • Use your common sense:  if you ask yourself if it’s too much, it probably is

Start small and add logs as the fire burns.

All Fires Should Be Attended to by a Responsible (and Sober) Adult

Any fire should be monitored by a responsible, sober adult at all times.  Children should not use fire pits and should not be left alone with them. Ever.

About Features and Accessories 

Let’s start with accessories.  While many are purely optional, there are some accessories (often included with the fire pit) that are necessary for safe, well-burning fire pits. If they are not included but offered as “options,” you should get them if you don’t already have them (pokers, for example).  As options, they usually cost far less than purchasing them alone.

Fire Pits with Mesh Sides: Decorative And Functional


Just as with all fire pits, those with mesh cutouts are safe when used properly.

Many fire pits have cutouts covered by metal mesh that usually is a bit heavier than the mesh screen that should be used. We’ve had questions about whether these types of fire pits are safe.

Properly tended, they are safe. An added benefit is that the “holes” let air flow through the fire pit. The result: a fire that is usually easier to start and which burns more evenly.

Cooking Grills

Some fire pits come with cooking grills, which is great for a real wood smoke taste for food. Just remember that wood fires burn differently than charcoal fires, so you may need to adjust your barbecue techniques.


Most fire pits do have legs, and this is helpful because it keeps the fire pit off of the ground. This can help prevent heat damage to stone or concrete patios, and reduce scorching of grass or whatever the pit is placed on.  As noted above, legs won’t make the fire pit any safer to use on or near a flammable surface.

When you look at fire pits, make sure that the legs aren’t too long. When you assemble the fire pit, make sure the legs are properly attached.

What you want are legs that are securely fastened and keep the fire pit level. Otherwise, the fire pit can tip and if that happens the mesh screen will be of minimal help.

Fire Extinguisher

Technically, a fire extinguisher is not an accessory.

But, it’s a always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher (or a large bucket of water) nearby when using fires, no matter where you are.

Be prepared in case you add too many logs and the fire gets bigger than you want, or if an ember or spark escapes while you are tending the fire.

What Fire Accessories Do You Really Need

Needed Accessories

Accessories You Really Do Need

As noted above, a fire extinguisher or large bucket of water is not really an accessory. It’s far more important than that.

A poker to adjust logs is highly recommended.
Just make sure you use the right size poker for the logs and your fire pit.

A metal spark screen is absolutely necessary for safety.

Almost always, these are included. They help stop sparks and embers from popping out onto nearby people, or brush, leaves, etc. that could start a larger fire.

Most, but not all fire pits, need a log grate so that air circulates below and the fire. Log grates are often, but not always included.

Log grates are most useful in fire pits that have bowls with flat, rather than rounded, bottoms.  Fire bowls that are inverted domes can often be used without grates, but do need more tending.

What Fire Accessories Are Nice to Have, But Usually Optional

Cooking grills, large tools to move logs while they are burning are available. But, they aren’t necessary.  If you’re on a budget, your money is probably better spent paying for a higher quality fire pit.

Copyright 2013,,, AM McElroy, All Rights Reserved. No parts of this post (including images) may be used without the express written consent of one of the above parties.
You may use portions of this post only if a working link to and/or is included. 


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