Fire Pits Offer a Place for Fellowship on Ministry Property, but Safety First

Adding an outdoor gathering and seating area on your ministry's patio or property is becoming easier to do. And fire pits are a popular addition. Many memories and hours of fellowship are made around this circle of fire. Your first concern—apart from who’s bringing marshmallows—should be safety. Whether it is portable or built in, gas, electric, or wood burning, take a moment to ensure your fire pit and supervision practices meet general safety standards.

A fire pit can be a permanently installed stone structure, a portable metal bowl, or a heavy-duty ring on bare ground. Whichever version you have on ministry property, manage the risks associated with an open flame and burning wood so that everyone can enjoy the fire. 

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, injuries associated with fire pits tripled between 2008—2017; a quarter of the victims were under 5 years old.

Don’t take for granted that your fire pit is safe. Before you gather for warmth, easy conversation, and s’mores, take a moment to ensure your fire pit and supervision practices meet general safety standards. This article discusses fire pits that burn wood, but safety measures easily can extend to gas- or propane-style fire pits.

Prepare to Own a Fire Pit

Location, location, location. Your fire pit should be on level ground to reduce the fire from burning outside the designated fire pit. This goes for both permanent structures and fire rings.

Create a 10+ foot clearance. To prevent property damage or a forest fire, make sure the fire pit is at least 10 feet from any structure. This include buildings, homes, fences, sheds, trees, vehicles, and parking lots. Your local regulations may require a wider clearance, so be sure to check. 

Avoid exploding stones. Use only fireproof and fire-resistant building materials. River rocks, pea gravel, and other porous materials contain moisture and may explode due to the rapid heat built from the fire.2 The ideal self-built fire pit is one from stones that are dry, rough and irregular.  Other sources of fire pit walls can be cinder blocks, fire bricks, and traditional brick.

Check local laws. Review local municipalities, city code, or even state laws on the requirements to have a fire pit and build accordingly.

Give your agent a heads up. Your agent can let you know if your insurance policy covers the use of a fire pit.

Lighting, Use, and Management

Clear the ground of any nearby debris. Dried leaves or trash are a hazard and can ignite from flying embers. 

Any way the wind blows. Before lighting the fire, make sure there is minimal wind to prevent flames and/or embers to spread to the surrounding areas. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, check the local fire danger level or for a red flag warning. 

Don’t add fuel the fire. To ignite the fire, avoid using highly combustible items, i.e., gasoline, diesel, and kerosene. These fuel sources may cause the fire to quickly get out of control. Kindling wood is ideal. Keep matches and lighters away from children.

Only use seasoned wood, of at least six months. Avoid burning pre-treated lumber, construction materials, and composite woods since these can release toxic chemicals. 

Stay with it. Supervision of the fire is probably one of the most important items of using a fire pit. When using the fire pit, designate one person to constantly stay with the fire, even if the fire is small. 

Fireworks and fire pits don’t mix. This is a recipe for a very dangerous situation. Never use fireworks and fire pits at the same time, even if the two seemingly are not near each other.3 Fireworks can be unpredictable.

Prepare for emergencies. A fire extinguisher, appropriately rated, is a necessary item for a fire pit. Keep close a first aid kit stocked with bandages and burn ointment. These items should be readily available for a quick response.

Dousing Flames and Coals

Once the fun is over, the fire should be appropriately extinguished. Keep water or sand nearby and use it to suppress the fire—make sure you have plenty on hand to get the job done. 

Standing away from the fire as far as possible, pour an initial amount on the blaze. Stir the fire and ashes to expose additional embers. Use the additional amount of water or sand until the fire is extinguished and glowing coals and embers are no longer visible or hissing.4

If the fire gets out of hand, don’t wait. Call 911 or your local emergency response.

Implementing these fire pit safety tips can reduce injuries and wildfires. If you have questions, contact Brotherhood Mutual for additional tips and tricks. Call 800-333-3735 and ask to speak to a member of the Risk Control team.

More Resources

1 “Injuries from backyard fire pits on the rise, experts warn.” NBC News, 29 June 2018.
2 “Dos and Don’ts of Building a Fire Pit.”, Accessed 24 February 2020.
3 “Safety Tips for an Evening Bonfire.” Agricultural Safety and Health Program, Ohio State University Extension, Vol. 5 No. 9 October 2012. Accessed 24 February 2020.
4 “How to Maintain and Extinguish Your Campfire.” Smokey the Bear Wildfire Prevention, USDA Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. Accessed 24 February 2020.

Posted March 2020. Updated May 2023. 

The information provided on this page is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.