Outdoor fire places and fire pits can create a lovely ambiance and help extend parties by providing warmth and light after the sun goes down. They also can cause serious burns. "We see lots of burns caused by outdoor fire pits," said Annette Newman, RN, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Burn Center at University of Utah Health. "People get too close to the flames, or accidentally fall in, burn themselves on the hot metal, or even burn themselves hours after they think the fire is out on coals that are still hot."
According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission the number of burn injuries has almost tripled in the past decade in the United States - with more than 5,300 such injuries reported in the U.S. last year alone. Part of the reason is that more of the fire pits are being sold nationwide. And while the pits are popular, they don't come with training or safety guides. "Anyone using one of these fire pits needs to be aware of the danger they can pose," said Newman. "You can't just set it up, and assume since the fire is contained in one area that everything is safe."
Proper set up is important when it comes to fire pit safety. Make sure the pit is in an area away from dry brush of hanging branches. If it is a portable fire pit place it on a completely level surface out of high traffic areas and is not easy to jostle or tip. "Before you even consider building a buying a fire pit make sure they are allowed by law," said Newman. "Some areas may have ordinances against them due to fire danger - or limit when in the year they can be used."
Set up clear rules about behavior around the fire pit, and make sure everyone who will be near the fire knows them - especially children. Those rules should include how far back people should stand back from the fire, who can and cannot tend the fire, and who will monitor children and pets near the fire. "You also should have something to extinguish the fire on hand," said Newman. "Make sure everyone knows what it is, where it is, and how to use it."
When setting up your fire use only wood and kindling to start it. Do not use paper or other flammable items that could fly out of the fire. Never use any kind of accelerant like gasoline or kerosene. "Kids can be tempted to throw items into the fire to fan the flames," said Newman. "It's important they know that is not okay."
Once you are done with the fire it is important that it is properly extinguished. Do not leave hot coals sitting out - even if there is a screen or cover over the top of the pit. The best thing to do is use cold water to completely extinguish all flames and embers. "Remember, coals can stay hot up to 12 hours after being extinguished," said Newman.
It only takes moments for a serious burn to occur if precautions aren't taken. Being aware of the potential dangers and making others aware of them as well keeps everyone safe. "And if a serious burn does occur seek medical attention as quickly as possible," said Newman.