Can You Leave A Fire Pit Burning Overnight? Is It Illegal?

two empty chairs next to a fire pit that is still burning at night

Enjoying your fire pit on a chilly night can be an extra special way to end the day, but what happens if you are ready to call it a night before the fire burns out? Leaving a fire pit to burn unattended is not only illegal but unwise. 

You can’t leave a fire pit burning unattended, especially not overnight. Leaving a fire pit burning overnight is illegal in every U.S. state, garnering a prison sentence and a hefty fine. Fire safety practices include dousing the entire fire with water before heading indoors.

A backyard fire pit can be a source of enjoyment for the entire family. But if you invest in one, you need to keep fire safety at the forefront. Keep reading to learn reasons not to leave an unattended fire pit burning overnight, essential fire safety procedures, and the best locations for positioning a fire pit in the yard, or even in your front yard

Reasons Not To Leave a Fire Pit Burning Overnight

Leaving a fire burning on its own is never a good idea, which applies to fire pits. While the fire is contained in a secure fire pit, there are multiple ways for the fire to spread and cause a lot of damage. Here are some compelling reasons to wait until the fire is out or put it out before you go inside for the night. 

embers still burning underneath a camping fire pit at night

Leaving a Fire Pit Burning Is Illegal

In every U.S. state, leaving a fire burning unattended (even in a fire pit) is illegal. In most states, this would be a Class 3 misdemeanor. This offense is punishable by up to six months in prison and subject to a fine of up to $750.00. Leaving a fire pit burning also applies to smoldering wood, still smoking ashes, and other flammable materials. 

Unattended Fires Can Cause Extensive Damage

Leaving a fire in the fire pit overnight is a way to cause extensive damage to the surrounding areas. It takes only one spark flying in the wind to land on flammable material, and a forest fire starts. Many times, leaves and dry limbs nearby will catch fire quickly and spread. 

  • Embers in a fire pit can continue to burn for up to twelve hours. As long as embers burn, a spark can catch on the wind and land in a place where it catches fire. 
  • Flying embers start fires that can burn up to ninety percent of homes. Even tiny embers can travel miles to burn houses and woods in fires that spread rapidly. 
  • Embers can travel as much as five miles (8.05 km) without extinguishing. Flying embers are called “red snow,” landing far away to ignite fires elsewhere. 

A Fire Pit Left Burning Can Harm Your Family and Home

A fire needs three things to burn: oxygen, a spark, and fuel. Even when you think you have extinguished the fire, the perfect mixture of these three will reignite flames in the fire pit. When the fire is burning again, the danger it poses increases exponentially. 

When you leave a fire pit burning or with still flammable embers, a slight wind can carry embers to flammable materials like leaves stuck in your gutter. A fire only takes five minutes to start and engulf a house, endangering your family and surrounding neighbors. 

Essential Safety Practices for Burning Fires in a Fire Pit

Practicing fire safety is crucial to using a fire pit successfully. As with any fire, pay careful attention to it at all times, making sure it doesn’t get out of hand due to negligence. When you implement fire precautions, you can greatly reduce the possibility that your fire causes damage. 

  • Look up fire safety practices for your municipality. Every town has fire-burning ordinances that offer guidelines for what is legal and acceptable, so learn how to burn legally.
  • Pay attention to the weather. Although you might want to, never burn a fire in the fire pit when there are strong winds in the forecast. Impending storms can also stir up the fire and cause embers to go flying into dangerous areas nearby.
  • Keep a water source and some sand nearby to put out fires quickly. Make it a habit not to light the fire pit unless you have water close to the fire. Even a children’s sandbox will help you extinguish a fire that has gotten out of hand. 
  • Don’t burn rotten wood. Rotten wood can send pollutants and other irritants into the air. It holds moisture and has microorganisms and bacteria that can be harmful to breathe.
  • Don’t burn treated or construction wood. Many wood types for buildings contain poisonous chemicals that are released when burned, exposing you and others to carcinogens.
  • Store additional firewood far away from the fire pit. The last thing you want is for a flying ember to catch on the dry firewood and cause a large, unmanageable fire. 
  • Don’t burn trash in a fire pit. Fire pits are only designed for recreational fires that burn for a short period and then you put out. 
  • Keep a close eye on kids near the fire pit. Kids love to run and play, but it’s unsafe to let them do it near the fire pit, where their clothes can catch on fire. 

How To Extinguish a Fire in a Fire Pit

Quenching the fire in the fire pit is a crucial part of fire safety. Ensuring the fire is out entirely will give you peace of mind as you go inside for the night.

Follow these steps for adequately quenching the fire:

  1. Do not add more wood to the fire for a minimum of one hour before you are done there.
  2. Let the existing wood burn down to ashes. 
  3. Spread out the wood pieces to burn faster in the fire pit.
  4. Use a garden hose to put out all the embers that are burning. Be sure to water the entire fire pit.
  5. Assess the surrounding areas for possible burning embers. 
  6. Touch the fire area to ensure there are no hot spots. 
  7. Douse the fire pit one more time before going indoors. 
  8. Clean out the old fire ashes and wood before building a new fire.  

Best Locations for Fire Pits in the Yard

Choosing the safest location in the yard for a built-in or portable fire pit is essential. Some parts of the yard are more suitable than others, and placing the fire pit in the least dangerous space will help you guard against unwanted fires. 

  • Place a fire pit at least twenty-five feet (8 meters) from any structure.
  • Position a fire pit in a wide open space away from trees and woods.
  • The ideal surface for a fire pit is paved with non-flammable material.
  • Having a stone buffer around the fire pit can reduce the spreading of flames. 
  • Ensure the ground beneath the fire pit is level. 
  • Stay up-to-date with municipal fire safety codes and follow them carefully. 

Situating a fire pit in an open part of the front or backyard allows you to experience all the pleasure of roasting marshmallows without the possibility of unintentionally starting a dangerous, fast-spreading fire. 

Conclusion 

The most pivotal rule for burning a fire is to never leave it unattended. This applies to fire pits, too. Understanding that leaving a fire unattended is illegal throughout the United States is reason enough to put out the fire in the pit before you go inside. 

Extinguishing the fire pit fire before you go indoors involves following safety practices that help ensure the fire is completely out.

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