“Winter is coming,” as the popular Game of Thrones saying goes. With the cold weather approaching, I wanted to defy the winter and install a fire pit in my backyard.
The only issue I had was whether having one is allowed. So, I researched the fire pit policies in my county and other states and discovered some interesting facts.
In this article, I’ll walk you through everything about whether or not fire pits are legal. And at the end, I’ll include some safety tips to get the most out of your fire pit experience.
Let’s get started!
Fire pits are an attractive addition to your home’s aesthetic. It creates a cozy outdoor space where you and your family can hang out—regardless of the season.
But are they legal?
YES, fire pits are generally legal as long as you follow the laws and regulations in your area. However, some counties, cities, or towns may ban them for health and safety reasons.
Counties, cities, and even neighborhoods have the authority to mandate regulations about building fire pits. So, while mostly permitted, you’ll still need to check with your local fire department for certainty.
The policies about outdoor burning activities like a fire pit can vary. Some laws include size restrictions, distance guidelines, and permitted fuel types.
For example, Utah’s Fire Authority Department has provided fire safety guidelines. So they allow backyard fire pits, but they shouldn’t exceed the set sizing and distance.
New York City, on the other hand, has a different take on these fiery activities. The city government strictly prohibits any form of open fire structures, including fire pits, patio hearths, and more.
Nevertheless, most cities and towns do allow small fires for recreational purposes. And fire pits typically fall under that category, along with bonfires, outdoor fireplaces, BBQ grills, and more.
Different areas have different rules about fire pits. However, I discovered they have almost identical regulations on fire pit structures and safety guidelines.
The first thing you should consider when building your fire pit is its placement. And it goes for both permanent and temporary fire pit structures.
The idea is to keep the fire as far away as possible from other flammables. So, it’s best you have an open space far away from your shed, car, neighbor, and, most importantly, house.
Most distancing regulations, like Utah’s and California’s, outline specific spacing requirements for fire pits. But they typically fall between 10 to 25 feet away from other structures.
If your backyard has trees, keep your fire away from low-hanging branches. Your neighborhood’s homeowner association may also require a site inspection to ensure your fire pit location is safe.
Aside from the placement, you need to consider the size as well. In short, no matter how fun it sounds, you can’t make gigantic fire pits.
County and state guidelines limit how big you can make your fire pit. California and Utah, for instance, assigned a maximum pile size of 3 feet wide and 2 feet high—which is the standard for most states.
This size limit ensures that no embers spread on the surroundings, which can cause severe problems like burned properties or wildfires.
Another thing worth noting is that some counties and cities regulate the fuel you can use for a fire pit. So it’s best you contact your local fire department for the fire pit fuel allowed.
Certain parts of Illinois State only permit dry, seasoned wood as fuel for fire pits. They don’t allow other burning materials, such as grass, leaves, branches, or yard waste.
The reason for this restriction is to prevent potentially harmful gasses or toxic fumes from spreading. Everyday materials like magazines, papers, and plastic might be good fire starters, but inhaling them endangers your health and others.
Fire safety organizations discourage using gasoline and other combustible liquids as well. These fuels are dangerous for backyard fire pits as the vapors they produce can also ignite.
You can’t leave your fire while it’s burning. That’s the golden rule when talking about any fire-related activities, so the same rule applies to fire pits.
Some counties mandate that you supervise the fire pit at all times. Others also prohibit minors from igniting, maintaining, monitoring, or extinguishing fire pits.
Finally, fire-extinguishing tools should always be present near your burning area. A portable fire extinguisher or other materials to extinguish a fire, like water or dirt, should be readily available.
Generally speaking, you won’t need a permit to start your fire pit. However, certain states and counties may require it for safety reasons.
States that don’t require permits for recreational fire pits include Texas, Florida, Colorado, and Ohio. Nevertheless, most of these states have fire pit safety policies you should follow.
Ohio, for example, mandates a statewide outdoor open-burning ban during spring and fall when wildfire danger is high. The same ban goes on when pollution warnings are in effect.
New Jersey and Hawaii are two states that demand special burning permits for fire pits. You may also need to procure approval before constructing your fire pit.
A burn ban is a policy mandated by state or county governments. It prohibits outdoor burning activities, such as campfires, smoking, welding, fireworks, and open fires.
Fire policies like these are typical in regions with high wildfire dangers. Think about Texas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Oklahoma.
Another reason for burn bans is when air pollution reaches unhealthy levels. Local governments will announce temporary or seasonal burn bans to alleviate this environmental issue.
Whether or not you can use a fire pit during a burn ban depends on your area’s policy. As you might already have guessed, some states, counties, and cities are stricter than others.
Let me cite an example.
In Oregon, a fire ban means no burning of wood, charcoal, pellets, candles, torches, and any flame device you can’t turn off using a valve. So, no fire pits during a fire ban.
Texas, on the other hand, has a more lenient policy about this issue. In fact, Texas counties like Bexar permit fire pits even during a burn ban as long as they follow safety standards.
You might have reviewed your county’s burn ban mandate and found that it prohibits “open burning.” And it made you wonder whether a fire pit is a type of open burning.
Well, here’s what I found:
The Lincoln City’s Municipal Code for air pollution defined open fire as “the burning of any matter” that releases smoke and fumes directly to the surroundings.
Given that description, we can safely say that a fire pit is open burning. The same idea applies to other forms of recreational fire devices, like fire-tables, chimineas, and outdoor fireplaces.
Safety should always be your top priority—especially when dealing with fire. Here are some of the best tips and practices to ensure you enjoy your fire pit without incidents:
Make checking the weather a habit before lighting your fire pit. Avoid windy conditions with strong gusts of wind as they might carry sparks, which is a potential fire hazard.
Supervising children is a must around a fire pit. To prevent accidents, keep your children at least three feet away from the fire at all times.
Accidents can happen at any moment. Keep fire extinguishers nearby, and don’t hesitate to call your local fire department in an emergency.
Still have questions about fire pits? Here are some fire pit FAQS that might help you:
Yes, having a fire pit in your yard is generally legal. Although, you have to ensure you’re following your state, county, city, or town’s safety guidelines and policies.
Contact your local fire authority to learn more about your area’s fire pit regulations.
Under normal circumstances, you may use fire pits at any time of the year. However, burn bans may prohibit you from starting open fires during certain weather conditions or months, depending on the state or county.
Yes, you can usually have a fire pit within city limits. But certain cities, such as New York, may not allow these recreational fires, so checking with your local authorities is best.
Fire pits are a great way to enjoy the outdoors without traveling far. With this fiery upgrade, you can enjoy cozy outdoor nights with your family and friends.
Setting comfort aside, ensure you follow your community’s mandate on fire pits before building one. Local governments place these policies to protect you and your neighborhood.
Enjoy your fire pit responsibly!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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