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AFD advises fire pit safety

After being sequestered within their homes for months, many residents are taking advantage of recent warm weather by using their outdoor fire pits.
A spark arrester on top of a fire pit can help keep the flames small. Photo Submitted/For Airdrie City View

After being sequestered within their homes for months, many residents are taking advantage of recent warm weather by using their outdoor fire pits.

"We want to encourage people to get out, but there's some things we want them to do safely and make sure it's appropriate," said Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) Deputy Chief Ken Hubbard.

In general, Hubbard said he believes most Airdrie residents use their fire pit responsibly, considerately and safely. Still, fire safety is a priority for AFD.

According to Hubbard, an acceptable fire pit structure should have a minimum three-metre clearance from any buildings, property lines or other combustible materials.

"If it's in somebody's backyard, make sure it's not on a wooden deck, or close to wooden foundations, sheds and other storage buildings or trees," he said.

Because fire pits can be constructed from a variety of materials, Hubbard said people need to make sure they are secure and won’t tip over. The sides should be enclosed with bricks, concrete blocks, heavy gauge metal or other non-combustible materials. Additionally, they should not exceed 24 inches in height or one meter in diameter.

"We also recommend gravel or sand in the bottom of the pit,” Hubbard said. “That helps with water drainage and also makes it a little easier to clean up and remove some of the material that's inside."

Leaving a fire unattended is the most common safety error people make, Hubbard said. Because a fire can double in size every 30 seconds, it doesn't take long for it to get out of control.

"We've had a number of instances where people have stoked up a pretty good fire and left them unattended or didn't have something close by to extinguish it, like a bucket of water, fire extinguisher or even some sand – things they could very easily put on the fire to make sure they can put it out," Hubbard said.

Smoke can also be a problem, especially for neighbours. AFD asks that people are responsible and familiarize themselves with how smoke travels.

"If it's bothering your neighbours, maybe don't do it when the winds are blowing in that direction," Hubbard said.

Clean, dry, untreated wood should be used as fuel. Materials that are painted or have preservatives on them should not be used, Hubbard said. Additionally, weeds and branches should be avoided as they give off excessive smoke and vapours that can cause problems for neighbours.

Hubbard also recommended people have smaller fires and use a metal spark arrestor – a mesh screen that sits on top of the fire pit – to reduce the flame's size and prevent sparks and embers from escaping.

AFD expects an average of two fire-related calls a week this summer, Hubbard said, which would be consistent with previous years.

Kate F. Mackenzie,
Follow me on Twitter @katefmack


Kate F. Mackenzie

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