Fire Pits Come Home in North Dakota

During warmer months, more people are bringing the fun of a campfire home.

Grand Forks fire officials say that's OK, as long as the proper precautions are used.

Outdoor fire pits include manufactured, custom and portable pits, dishes, baskets and containers, most with lids and screens. Their popularity and availability have increased dramatically in recent years, especially in urban areas.

In fact, the manufactured fire containers have multiplied so quickly that they've surpassed the efforts to write fire codes guiding and regulating their use. Grand Forks, for example, has no code that specifically deals these types of backyard fire containers, according to Deputy Fire Chief Mike Flermoen.

"We have a tendency to lump them under recreation fires because it seems to fit the best," he said.

Recreational fires are legal, with limits. But by definition under fire codes, recreational fires are open-burning fires - often in ground pits - that do not use leaves, grasses or rubbish as fuel, and are not contained an incinerator, or in an outdoor fireplace, grill or barbecue pit.

Flermoen said that simply following the manufacturer's guidelines when buying a manufactured outdoor fire pit is one of the best ways consumers can stay safe.

"Manufacturer guides recommend adult supervision of the unit and taking care of and cleaning unit, things along that line," he said.

Flermoen said to keep the fuel pile small and contained within any outdoor fire unit, and keep the device away from combustibles.

Fire authorities around the nation vary widely in their recommendations for keeping the devices a safe distance from buildings or other combustible material. In Bismarck, fire authorities recommend a minimum distance of three feet; in Omaha, one official recently told the Omaha World-Herald that 25 feet is more appropriate distance.

Fire units are unsuitable for use on decks of multi-family type residences, such as an apartment building or duplexes, Flermoen added.

Fire experts recommend using untreated hardwood in these manufactured pits, though some units are fired with natural gas or liquid propane.The Grand Forks Fire Department typically gets phone calls about these fire pit containers after the items are purchased, Flermoen said. If they are a property concern, he said, a person can report the fire as if it were a nuisance fire. Typically, the fire department will send someone out to investigate.

"If that fire officer agrees that it is causing a problem or being a nuisance, then we will order it put out," Flermoen said. "If that is not complied with, then we will extinguish it," he said.

For more questions about outdoor fire devices, or any fire questions, call the Grand Forks Fire Department, (701) 746-2569.

Distributed by the Associated Press