Fire Pit

Garden Clippings for July 4, 2020

Among the first Covid-19 related restrictions that was lifted was the ban on recreational burning.  When the ban was first put in place, many citizens could not understand how a simple backyard fire might contribute to the spread of Covid-19.

What citizens failed to consider is that backyard burning activities may cause sparks that may produce fires, which may result in panic calls to the local fire department, putting the safety of first responders at risk.

Thankfully, the ban on outdoor burning was lifted on May 8, allowing families to once again enjoy marshmallows and hot dogs over an open fire.  But now that recreational fires are permitted, we would be wise to know that open burning is not a free-for-all.  The City of Sarnia has a By-law, signed in 2001, putting certain guidelines in place.

A full version of the By-law can be found on the City’s website, but the Cole’s notes version states that a fire pit cannot have a diameter of more than 24 inches, with no more than 8 inches above ground and no more than 16 inches in the ground.  A metal grate is to cover the pit to prevent sparks from flying, and a fire extinguisher must be nearby.

I hope personnel from the Fire Department do not stop by my backyard, and if they do, I hope they do not bring an accurate measuring tape.  I am happy to say that our backyard fire pit nicely complies with the spirit of the law.  The By-law also states that any fire pit needs to be a minimum of 3 meters from any property lines or anything combustible and can only be burning within the hours of 10 am and 11 pm.

We use our fire pit a lot, sparking endless conversation. If its just the two of us, we’ll banter about paint colours, politics, religion and co-workers, all positive of course.  If Jarod stops by, the conversation often moves to health care and if Ben is home, we might talk horticulture.

Those considering a fire pit in the backyard would be smart to look to websites for inspiration.  Pinterest and Houzz are my go-to destinations, but there are hundreds other sources of ideas.  From this Landscape Architect’s point of view, I suggest the following considerations:

  1. Square is easier than round. A square pit also looks more contemporary.
  2. Make sure you remove the topsoil and install the pit on a solid gravel foundation.
  3. Depth is not important but building the stone about a foot high gives your feet a place to rest when the fire is small.
  4. A metal insert is recommended and will prevent the unit landscape stones from cracking in the heat.
  5. Allow room around the fire for family and friends to gather. A minimum of 12 ft diameter.
  6. Locate the pit away from property lines, sheds, and trees.
  7. If you have enough room, avoid putting the pit in the centre of the backyard. Instead, link the pit to adjacent landscapes.
  8. Consider installing a brick, concrete or flagstone patio around the fire pit. Decorative boulders could double up as seating.
  9. If you do not want the fuss of gathering and chopping firewood, consider the option of a natural gas or propane insert.