‘Unfanning’ the Flames — Preventing Fire Pit Injuries
Outdoor living spaces have become a trend in homes, especially South Florida homes. Whether one lives on the Intracoastal Waterway, has a glimpse of the ocean or enjoys a larger lot out west with a sunset view, bringing the interior to the exterior is a common theme among homeowners. The result is a change in backyard landscaping that includes the wildly popular fire pit.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, the fire pit ranks No. 1 among a trio of top outdoor design features. A survey of members found fire pits at 75 percent, followed by lighting (67 percent) and wireless connectivity (66 percent). Fire pits have popped up at resort hotels, trendy restaurants and other public places, but it is their increased addition to private properties that has the National Fire Protection Association concerned.
“Summer outdoor parties are some of the best events of the year,” the association’s Web site states. “The warm balmy nights, food cooking on the grill, and friends and family spending quality time together in the backyard or around the pool create wonderful memories that last a lifetime. But, hosting outdoor events also means there’s an increased risk of home fires. Fortunately, following some simple safety tips and guidelines can help ensure you and your guests stay safe.”
The association reports that fire pits – or outdoor fireplaces – caused almost 3,700 fires in 2012, the latest year for which statistics are available. It also reports that injuries from fire pits have tripled between 2006 and 2012, spiking to 3,600, from 1,300. Injuries are problematically plaguing children ages 5 and younger, a population that accounts for one-quarter of those hurt.
“Many are burned the next day, when abandoned coals are still hot,” NBC News states in an article titled “Injuries from backyard fire pits on the rise, experts warn.” “Even if a parent is nearby, it can take just a few seconds for a serious accident to happen.”
Three seconds is all it took for a 6-year-old Maryland boy who fell into a fire pit to receive second- and third-degree burns on 10 percent of his body. The boy’s father heard “I’m dying, I’m dying” before running to the fire pit and pulling his son from the flames. The boy has made a full recovery since the 2017 Memorial Day Weekend accident but has a permanent scar on his neck.
“Most parents say ‘it happened so fast. I only turned my back for a second and next thing I knew he was screaming,’” Dr. Dylan Stewart, who treated the boy’s wounds, told NBC News. “That’s a pretty common story.”
Here are some safety tips:
- Supervise children at all times and make sure they know to stay at least 10 feet from the fire pit.
- Alert children when the fire pit is lit, when it is re-lit and when extinguished. Go over the rules with them every time to prevent them from getting burned.
- Extinguish the fire pit properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
“Fire pits can remain extremely hot into the next day,” the NBC News article states. “Be sure children are aware of this and supervised until all embers are burned and the temperature returns to normal. If someone suffers a moderate burn, use cool, not cold, water on the burn for 3-5 minutes, then cover with a clean dry cloth. For serious burns, go to the hospital right away.”
It is important to consider the location of a fire pit in proximity to the home, its surrounding vegetation and the neighbors. A good 25 feet from the home, is preferable, if possible, and 10 feet away from bushes and trees and the house next door is a sufficient. A fire pit never should be positioned on a covered patio or under branches, nor should it rest on grass or wood; it should be placed on concrete blocks or tile. In an abundance of caution, fill a bucket sand or water, or fill two with each, or – better yet – have a hose and gloves nearby in cause of an emergency.
“Fire pits are a fantastic addition to any homestead or rural backyard,” reads a Mother Earth News article titled “5 Fire Pit Safety Tips from A Former Wildland Firefighter.” “They are attractive, inexpensive to use and help to extend the use of your yard through the fall and winter. But when you use a fire pit you are literally playing with fire! Careless misuse could not only set your own house ablaze, but also could spark a grass fire and endanger others nearby.”