Consider this scenario: It’s a nice cool evening in the late spring or summer or fall. You and your family are sitting outside enjoying the fading daylight and cool, crisp air. The windows to your house are open to let that cool, fresh air in. Suddenly, the smell of burning wood wafts over from your neighbor’s yard into your own, sending your asthmatic child and elderly grandparent scrambling inside. But the smoke is also coming into your house (you know this because you can smell it), and you are forced to close all your windows. You look out the window and see your neighbor’s family sitting around a fire pit in their backyard — flames and smoke and laughter and S’mores. Chances are your neighbor does not appreciate the dangers to health — especially children’s health — created by backyard fire pits. Avichai Scher and Tom Costello reveal one threat:
Fire pits are nearly ubiquitous in backyards across the country, rated recently as the most popular outdoor design feature by the American Society of Landscape Architects. But the trend comes with a price — at least 5,300 injuries related to fire pits or outdoor heaters were treated at emergency rooms in the U.S. in 2017, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. That’s nearly triple the 1,900 injuries reported in 2008.
A quarter of the victims are under the age of 5. Many are burned the next day, when abandoned coals are still hot.
Scher and Costello recount one severe accident involving a 6-year-old boy and a fire pit, which happened faster than the parents could react:
“Families, especially with young children, need to be aware of the risks,” said Lisa Braxton, public education specialist at the National Fire Prevention Association. “It’s parents’ responsibility to teach safe behavior, but they also must supervise at all times.”
Even if a parent is nearby, it can take just a few seconds for a serious accident to happen.
The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and other organizations offer tips on safely operating a backyard fire pit:
> Place the fire pit outside in an open area on a solid surface (NEVER on a wooden deck or in an enclosed area!).
> Know your local or county’s regulations regarding the use of a fire pit. (You may also want to check your homeowner’s insurance policy in case you cause an accident or structure fire.)
> Don’t build a fire on a windy day or evening.
> Start your fire small and never use an accelerant or gasoline to start or enhance the fire.
> Don’t allow children to light the fire.
> Never leave the fire unattended; adults should supervise at all times.
> Keep fire no more than three feet in diameter and two feet high.
> Use wire mesh cover to control sparks. (Careful, the handle gets very hot.)
> Keep a water hose, a bucket of sand, or a fire extinguisher nearby.
> Extinguish the fire completely when finished.
Be cautious but also courteous to your neighbors. It turns out the smoke from burning wood in a fire pit contains dangerous ingredients. It’s one thing to willingly expose your own family to those airborne dangers in the privacy of your backyard; it’s another to expose your neighbors to smoke that cannot possibly be contained within your property lines. We’ll have more about that tomorrow on The PediaBlog.