As temperatures drop across the country, many are still trying to squeeze as much time as they can outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic by purchasing fire pits for their backyards.
At stores like Home Depot and Lowes, there’s been a surge in sales for fire pits and other outdoor items. True Value also says it's also seen a 300% increase in wood-burning fire pit sales.
But while many are flocking to stores to purchase a fire pit of their own this fall season, fire and health departments across the country have posted safety alerts after seeing a rise in fire pit-related injuries.
“These devices are generally low, below the level of the knee,” said Dr. Michael Marano, the director of the burn center at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey. “It’s very easy to trip and fall into them.”
Not only can people easily trip and fall into these fire pits, but fire pits can also explode if there’s no proper ventilation.
That’s what happened to Keith Faver and his daughter, Chloe, last winter, when they were enjoying the gas fire pit outside their Florida home. Because the fire pit didn’t have ventilation, it exploded and ended up tossing both of them in the air and scattering debris across their yard.
“I turned to find her and she had flown 12 feet in the air over the top of me,” Faver recalls from that incident. Luckily they were both okay. “We are very fortunate to get out of this incident without serious injury or even possibly being killed.”
There were almost 3,000 injuries involving fire pits last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Now, experts are urging people to be safe and to take extra safety precautions before purchasing a fire pit or before gathering by one this season.
Here are some fire pit safety tips from Maryland's Montgomery Fire and Rescue Service:
Don’t place a fire pit on a wood surface
“Fire pit[s] should be on natural grass, dirt or stone patio,” said Montgomery County fire chief Scott Goldstein.
For gas fire pits, make sure they have proper ventilation.
Don’t leave a fire pit unattended
“A fire pit needs to be 10 to 15 feet away from a combustible item,” said Goldstein. “You can’t turn your back and leave the fire pit unattended.”
One of the top mistakes that people with fire pits make is that they forget to put out the embers.
“What occurs is people go to bed at night, they leave some embers in there and it still burns,” said Montgomery County battalion chief Jay Blake.
Put out the fire safely
To put out a fire in a fire pit safely, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service says to look at signs that indicate when it’s ready to put out.
First, see that the fire is decaying, which is an indicator that you’re ready to turn in. Then, use a shovel to move the ashes around to get at the burning embers underneath.
After that’s done, use a hose to slowly and steadily dampen the area and put the fire out. Put all the ashes in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid to cool. According to the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, coals and ashes can remain hot enough to start a fire for many days after a fire is out.
Things to remember:
For all fire pits, make sure all children and pets are supervised and don’t throw anything into a lit fire, especially gasoline or aerosols.