It is summer and you just moved into a new home with a sprawling backyard. You’ve always dreamed of hosting campfire nights with family and friends where you can enjoy good food, cold drinks, and amazing conversations by the fire.
So you’re looking forward to finally planning your first outdoor party in your backyard. But now you’re starting to ask yourself, “Am I allowed to light a fire in my backyard?”
To answer the question simply- it depends. Lighting a fire in your backyard means you have to consider different things including safety, environmental concerns, and legal factors.
To make things easier, here’s everything you need to know about lighting a fire in your backyard.
The law regarding backyard fires
If you are going to responsibly light a fire in your backyard, you need to learn about the rules and regulations that govern this activity first.
In general, the federal government allows you to light a fire as long as you can do it responsibly.
Fire can be potentially dangerous if not handled properly so you need to make sure that you’re doing everything right to protect yourself, your neighbors, and your community.
But while it’s generally okay to light a fire in your backyard, some state governments have different opinions about the matter.
For instance, Colorado and Arizona don’t allow burning trash or recreational burning mostly due to air quality issues. Then, there are also more specific local ordinances that depend on the location of your neighborhood and the population density.
For example, you may not be allowed to light a fire in your backyard if you’re living in a small area with a lot of people because there’s a higher risk for property damage and loss of life if the fire gets out of hand.
Some suburban or rural areas may also prohibit lighting a fire for the same reasons. If you live in a village or gated community, you would also need to learn about the rules of the homeowners’ association for lighting fires because some don’t allow it while others would require you to pay a fee for the activity.
What you can and cannot burn in your backyard
If your community allows backyard burning chances are there will be some rules on what you can and cannot burn.
What you can burn
Since opening burning can be potentially dangerous, the law only allows certain materials to be burned in your backyard. In most places, you are only allowed to burn yard products and natural vegetation as long as you are burning them properly.
Wood is the most common material used for lighting a fire in fire pits, but you can’t just use any type of wood you find in your backyard:
- Never burn wood that has been treated since harmful chemicals could be released into the air causing serious health risks to you and your community.
- To reduce particle pollution, only choose wood that has been dried and seasoned so it burns cleaner. A good firewood should have 20% moisture content, which you can check using a moisture meter.
- Aside from yard products, the only other material that you may be allowed to burn is newspaper, which will help start the fire along with some lighter fluid.
- Always check the burn days for your area so you don’t light a fire in your backyard during those days when air pollution is higher than normal.
- Never burn products that have been painted or anything that’s made of synthetic materials like insulation, clothes, carpets, diapers and recyclable products. These products are not only toxic, but they also generate more smoke, which is potentially dangerous to your health.
- Make sure to take extra precautions if you live in an area where brush fires are common.
Burning a fire safely
Now that you know the rules behind lighting a fire it’s time to learn how to start your fire pit safely.
- Gather all the materials that you need including your dry tinder, kindling, firewood, match, log tongs and gloves, and of course, some water for emergencies.
- Start with your tinder, which can be anything from tree bark to newspaper that will help you get the fire started. Place the tinder at the middle of the fire pit and put together a tee pee-like frame made of kindling directly above that.
- Light the fire from your tinder pile using a torch, match or lighter. As your kindling starts to burn, you can slowly add your dried firewood into the fire pit following a tee pee, pyramid stack, or log cabin placement to allow the right concentration of fuel while making sure that it has the gaps needed for proper airflow. You can add more tinder and kindling if you need to keep your fire burning or if your firewood doesn’t burn fast enough.
Putting out a fire pit
After enjoying your fire pit you need to responsibly put it out to make sure that you don’t put yourself and your neighbors at risk for a fire.
- As the party winds down, you can stop adding wood to your pit so it can slowly go out on its own. If the fire has already died down, you can extinguish it completely by adding sand or smothering it with water to soak the embers completely. If you’re using water, make sure to stir the ember mix with a shovel to be sure that everything is soaked.
- Make sure that no one goes near a cooling fire pit, especially your children or pets because metals, embers and firewood may still be hot and could cause serious burns.
- Check the fire pit before leaving it to make sure that the fire has been completely extinguished and there are no chances of burning materials in it.
Lighting a fire in your backyard takes a lot of responsibility and caution.
Since fire can be a tricky element, you don’t only need to learn about the rules regarding backyard burning in your area. But you also need to know how to light fires safely to avoid potential problems that could put you and your community at risk for different hazards.