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Fire Pits vs. Bonfires: Everything You Need to Know

Fire Pits vs. Bonfires: Everything You Need to Know

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Whether you’re hosting an outdoor party, celebrating a special occasion, or want to warm up, building a fire in your yard is the way to go. That said, there are different types of fires to choose from, including fire pits vs. bonfires.

While teepee-shaped bonfires might be the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning building fires, fire pits are more appropriate for residential areas and backyards due to their small size.

In this article, I’ll guide you through the main distinctions between fire pits vs. bonfires. So, let’s dive in!

What Is a Fire Pit?

A fire pit is a small, controlled fire. The flames are usually contained within a vessel, the pit, which can be metal, stone, or brick.

There are light, portable fire pits, meaning you can take your fire pit on trips, campfires, or tailgates.

Alternatively, you can install your fire pit in your yard or in your patio. In this case, you have the option to get a fire pit table.

Due to their compact size, fire pits are perfect for cozying up, keeping you warm, keeping the mosquitoes away, or even making some tasty s’mores.

What Is a Bonfire?

Bonfires are large-scale. They need plenty of space and a lot of material. Though, despite the large area of bonfires, they’re still controlled.

Typically, bonfires are lit on beaches or in forests, rather than in residential areas. The location of a bonfire is strategically chosen since a tiny mishap can quickly make things go south.

Additionally, bonfires require permits in many cities and counties. After all, authorities need to be alert in case anything goes wrong with the large fire.

Bonfires are less practical than fire pits, as you can’t use them for cooking. Moreover, a fire with such magnitude for warming up is excessive.

Instead, bonfires can be used to eliminate waste. They’re also used at parties and celebratory occasions. Many religions use bonfires for specific rituals and practices.

Differences Between a Fire Pit vs. Bonfire

Now that you know the basic definition of the two types of flames, it’s easy to tell them apart. Still, here are all the distinctions between a fire pit and a bonfire:

1- Size

The first difference between a fire pit and a bonfire is their size and shape. Bonfires are significantly larger than fire pits.

Moreover, while fire pits have similar sizes, there’s no limit to how large a bonfire can be. As long as you have the space, you can build a huge bonfire.

As for the shape, you can light distinct types of fire pits, depending on the vessel you purchase. You can find round, cylindrical, or rectangular fire pits.

On the other hand, there’s less creative freedom when it comes to bonfires. The logs are arranged in a pyramid or teepee shape to make for large incineration in a relatively small surface area.

2- Location

Fire pits can fit on your deck, and you can light one in crowded areas such as parks and events.

However, you need plenty of free space to light a bonfire. It needs to be away from shrubs and trees to prevent forest fires, which is why bonfires are typically lit on beaches.

Still, you can get away with lighting a backyard bonfire if you take all necessary precautions and keep the bonfire small enough.

3- Material

The incinerated materials used in fire pits vs. bonfires are vastly different. This is only natural since the purpose of each type of fire couldn’t be further alike.

Fire pits rely on materials that burn for a long period and reach high temperatures. Still, these materials shouldn’t be too hot or produce a lot of sparks so as not to damage the fire pit or your backyard.

In this case, using charcoal, wood logs, and smokeless fuel would be perfect. These provide the optimal temperature for cooking as well as keeping warm.

Alternatively, bonfires need to burn large, not hot. You should also be able to quickly put out the fire in the event of an emergency or if the fire gets too big.

Well, you can put almost anything in a bonfire, including accelerant fluid, waste material, paper, dried leaves, and wood. However, you don’t want to use large amounts of long-lasting coal.

4- Setting Up

Setting up a bonfire is trickier than lighting a simple fire pit. For starters, you need three kinds of fuel: kindling, tinder, and firewood.

Then, you should choose the appropriate location for the bonfire, as well as build it in a way that ensures its size is controllable.

What’s more, bonfires require a delicate science. You need to keep the airflow going so that the flames don’t die out. Yet, the fire shouldn’t be too strong so that you’ll be able to quickly extinguish it.

On the other hand, lighting a fire pit takes seconds. All you have to do is place your materials in the fire pit and light with a match!

5- Maintenance

If you light a bonfire properly, it should keep going for a couple of hours before extinguishing. All you need to do is let it die out or smother it.

Once what’s left of your bonfire is ash and embers, you should pour a generous amount of water on it. Then, simply bury the dirt or shovel it away.

Fire pits, though small, require quite a bit of taking care of. First, you need to choose the incinerated material carefully. You must also clean the fire pit after each use.

Second, it’s crucial to use spark shields and protective, inflammable mats when lighting a fire pit.

6- Safety

Both fire pits and bonfires can be safe if you follow all the essential fire safety guidelines. Still, due to the sheer size of bonfires, they’re typically more dangerous than the relatively tiny fire pits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of wood to use in a fire pit?

The ideal type of wood for fire pits would be hardwood, such as oak, hickory, and maple. These woods burn for a long time at a steady pace. This way, they provide reliable heat and less smoke.

You can also use softwood like pine and cedar. However, these will burn shorter and produce more smoke.

Regardless of the type of wood logs you go for, stay as far as possible from treated wood, as those release toxic chemicals when burnt.

Can bonfires affect your health?

Even if you use untreated wood and stay far away from chemicals, burnt wood releases harmful smoke and carbon monoxide.

While this shouldn’t be an issue with small fire pits, grand bonfires release a huge amount of carbon monoxide.

Luckily, since these bonfires are often lit in open spaces, if you keep your distance from them, you’re unlikely to be harmed.

What is the safest type of fire pit?

Generally, fire pits are safer than bonfires. Still, some types of fire pits are better secured than others.

Gas-powered fire pits are the best option if safety is your top priority. Not only are they easy to set up, but you can turn off the flames in seconds, making for safe operations.

Final Thoughts

Fire pits and bonfires couldn’t be further alike. Though both flames are controlled, bonfires are large and require significant space. While they might be used for waste removal, they’re often celebratory.

Alternatively, fire pits are smaller and confined. These are usually used in homes and backyards. They’re also portable, making them perfect for barbecuing and warming up.

That’s not all. Each type of fire requires different effort and materials. You might get away with using any flammable materials in bonfires, but you need to take your time building the fire. In contrast, fire pits require special wood logs and charcoal, but can be lit up in seconds.


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