The allure of a flickering flame under the starlit sky is undeniable. A backyard fire pit not only promises warmth but also invites a sense of camaraderie among those gathered around it. Yet, as with many things, there exists a legal framework within which the joys of an open fire must be contained.

This guide endeavors to shed light on the legality and safe practice of having a fire pit in your backyard within the U.S., helping ensure your cozy gatherings remain on the right side of the law.

Understanding the Legality

The question often arises, “Can I have a fire pit in my backyard?” The answer is, generally, yes. However, the legality of backyard fire pits is governed by various laws and regulations at the county level. Compliance with these laws is paramount to ensure the safety of not just your household, but your entire community.

Each county or municipality has its own set of guidelines regarding recreational burning. These guidelines are designed primarily to prevent accidental fires and to limit the release of harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Adhering to these regulations will ensure that your backyard fire pit remains a source of joy and not a cause for concern.

Key Regulations to Adhere To:

  1. Distance from Combustibles:
  2. Proximity to Property Boundary:
    • Your fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from your property boundary to prevent any adversarial situations with your neighbors.
  3. Wind Conditions:
    • Avoid lighting your fire pit if the wind speed exceeds 15 miles per hour as it poses a significant risk of spreading fire.
  4. Size of Fire:
    • Keep your fires no taller than three feet high and no wider than three feet across to maintain a manageable and safe burn.
  5. Supervision:
    • All fires should be supervised by an adult throughout the burning process to ensure swift action in case of emergencies.

Defining a Recreational Fire

A recreational fire is typically defined as an outdoor fire that does not burn rubbish or trash and where the fuel is not contained in an incinerator, grill, or other cooking appliance of a fixed size. The purposes of such fires can range from pure enjoyment to religious or ceremonial, cooking, or warming purposes. It’s imperative to use proper fire pit fuel like firewood, tinder, and kindling instead of garbage or construction materials which emit harmful substances when burned.

What Can and Cannot be Burned

Awareness about what materials are safe to burn is crucial to prevent the release of toxic fumes and to comply with the law. Here’s a brief overview:

Unsafe Materials:

  • Paper, Cardboard, Particleboard, Wooden Pallets, Magazines, Plastic, Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac, Trash, Pressure Treated or Painted Wood, and Branches with Green Leaves.

Safe Materials:

  • Oak, Hickory, Ashwood, and Cedar are some of the approved and safe to burn firewood types.

Extinguishing Your Fire Safely

The remnants of a fire can retain heat for hours, and sometimes days, posing a latent threat if not handled carefully. Here’s a step-by-step guide to putting out your fire safely:

  1. Spread out the embers and ash to release the heat.
  2. Douse the area with water thoroughly, ensuring no hot embers remain.
  3. Stir the remains and douse again if necessary.
  4. Keep a close watch for any sign of smoke or heat emanating from the ashes.

Open Burning

Open burning, as defined by the Division of Environmental Quality, entails burning materials wherein air toxins are released directly into the atmosphere, bypassing a chimney or stack. The items permissible under open burn policies may vary from one locality to another, emphasizing the importance of local regulations.

Understanding Burn Bans

Burn bans, temporary in nature, focus on air quality and wildfire protection. Enforcement is crucial during warm, dry weather or stagnant air conditions.

Stage 1 Burn Ban:

  • Prohibits the use of wood-burning fireplaces, uncertified stoves, and outdoor burns. Certified devices producing no visible smoke may be exempt.

Stage 2 Burn Ban:

  • A total prohibition on burning, regardless of the device type, unless it’s the sole source of heat.

Penalties for Non-compliance

Violating burn bans can result in substantial fines ranging from $500 to $15,000, underscoring the seriousness with which these regulations are enforced.

Ensuring a Safe Fire Pit Experience

Investing in a safe, tested, and certified fire pit, like those from Outland Living, is a step towards ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience. Additionally, familiarizing oneself with, and adhering to local burning restrictions is crucial. A call to your local fire department can provide clarity on the size and purpose of the fire, and whether a permit is required.


The charm of a backyard fire pit is undeniably enticing. However, it comes with a responsibility towards the safety and well-being of oneself and the community. A thorough understanding and adherence to the local laws governing recreational burning will ensure that the flame of enjoyment continues to burn bright, safely nestled within the bounds of the law.