HOW-TO: Build a Safe Fire Pit

We already covered the basics of how to build a fire in a previous article, but how do you build and maintain a safe fire pit? After all, you can’t just build a fire in a giant field of dead grass and expect everything to go well. And with some areas having droughts and being vulnerable to forest fires, it’s important to know how to safely make a fire pit so the fire you build doesn’t end up being the fire that gets you in a hot spot.

There’s three important things to keep in mind when constructing your fire pit. Those are: Safety, construction, and accessories.

Safety

  • Always choose a spot that is flat and away from any other flammable material. Again, you don’t want to burn anything except what you CHOOSE to burn.
  • Keep in mind the direction and strength of the wind. Even if you think you’re far away from anything that could catch fire, embers can be blown into something. Choose an area with natural wind protection if possible.
  • Look out for anything above you that could catch fire. Branches, especially those of dead trees (not that you should be camping anywhere near widow-makers).
  • Clear anything that could catch fire at least 10 feet around your pit. Pine needles, dead leaves, branches, anything that could catch an ember.
  • If possible, build your fire on top of material that you know won’t burn like sand, gravel, or rocks (although keep an eye out for limestone or any rocks that have been submerged in water as they will explode in a fire)
  • Always keep water or a mound of dirt or sand next to the pit to put out your fire when finished or put out any embers that might try to run away.

Fundamentals

  • Figure out how big you want your pit to be. What are you using it for? Warming up quickly, cooking food, lighting up your area? How many people need to be around it? For just a few people make it about 2 feet in diameter. For a larger group extend that out to 4 feet.
  • Dig down a bit to concentrate the coals and to keep the fire out of the wind. Anywhere from just a couple inches to half a foot depending on your conditions. Also the tighter packed your coals are the hotter and brighter your fire will be and prevent it from being too smokey (everyone hates their eyes burning)
  • Build a stone perimeter around the base of the circle. This is an added layer of protection against embers flying away and it also creates thermal mass. The stones will heat up from the fire and radiate heat maximizing the heat output.

Accessories

  • Build a small stone wall against whatever area the wind is coming from to deflect the cold and help the fire’s heat go in the direction you want. This can also be useful to hang wet socks or other clothing on to dry out. You can even get crazy and smoke fish fillets!
  • Create a small circle bumped out on one side of the main circle of the fire pit as a small cooking area. You can scrape coals into this flat area and cook directly on them so you aren’t burning your hands trying to cook over your main camp fire.
  • Use dried hardwoods to get the best bang for your buck out of your fire. While soft woods might be great to get a fire going, they burn up fast and don’t produce as much heat. However, hardwoods are an excellent choice as they burn hotter, create less smoke, and burn brighter. Maples, Ash, Oaks, and most fruit trees are the best choices.
  • For wood that isn’t dry you can stack cut pieces around your fire to dry out. Make sure to split your logs and don’t get them too close to the fire that they’ll catch outside of your fire pit.

Now that you know how to build a safe fire pit you can enjoy the outdoors or survive in a harsh environment much more safely and securely!

 

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