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Protect your deck or patio from the heat of a fire pit.

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How to use a fire pit safely on a deck

Decks typically are next to and attached to the home. Whether the decking is wood or composite, both are flammable, and most decks have structures made of wood. So lighting up a camp fire with burning wood on a deck would seem like an imprudent idea. That is where a well made fire pit comes in. A sturdy steel fire bowl supported several inches above the deck on strong legs makes it possible, but not completely free from risk.

Deck Fires

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The photo above, taken by the Berwyn, PA fire department, shows a fire caused by ashes from a charcoal grill. Damage to the home, which included extensive smoke damage to the interior was estimated at $150,000. (source: mainlinemedianews.com)

Thousands of fires every year destroy residential decks . Often a deck fire will spread to the rest of the home and cause over $100,000 in damage. While many of the newspaper accounts of these fires end with a statement such as "the cause of the fire is under investigation," it is quite clear that in most cases, fire results when a homeowner fails to take sensible precautions.

Using a Fire Pit on a Composite Deck

Since composite decking generally incorporates the use of recycled plastic bottles as well has wood particles, it is vulnerable to excessive heat and can be more easily damaged by a fire pit than natural wood decking. Trex warns customers that its decking can “soften” at temperatures as low as 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Composite decking has many advantages, but it does call for greater caution when using a fire pit.

How an elegant fire table brought the Atlanta Fire Department to a beautiful rooftop deck.

An Atlanta entrepreneur found out the hard way about the damage a gas-fired fire table can do to a composite deck. Read More

Safety Tips for Wood-Burning Fires

  • Use a Spark Screen. Embers can pop and fly out as far as 3 or 4 feet. The spark screen keeps them harmlessly within. Most fire pits come with a spark screen, and for those that don't, the screen is generally available as an accessory. Admittedly, the screen does place a barrier between you and the fire. It keeps you from poking it with a poker to adjust the logs or from holding a skewer over the flame. So you will want to remove the screen, and this will be fine, but only as long as you watch out for embers and have a bottle of water ready to cool them immediately.
  • Stay Tuned. Never leave a hot fire unattended. Your deck is always more safe when you are keeping an eye on it. If you have to leave the fire, be sure to place the spark screen, and don't stay away for long.
  • Keep the Surrounding Area Clear. Avoid placing your fire pit close to anything flammable, such as a table with a table cloth. And it should not be close to the side of the house.
  • Extinguish the Fire Completely. When you are ready to call it an evening, it will be tempting to leave the fire burning. The fire will be out in 2 or 3 hours, when it runs out of fuel. If the fire has sections of log left, and the core is still hot, you should pour abut a quart of water on it. This will cause a great release of steam, but the fire will be cooled substantially. You will also be saving the remaining wood for the next fire. If it doesn't rain, the remaining wood and charcoal will likely be dry in the morning and usable for your next fire.
  • Leave the fire pit in place. Wait until the next day before emptying the coals and ash.
  • Make sure your fire pit is in good condition. There have been reports of fires caused when hot coals fell through a rusted out bottom of a fire pit.
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