Campfires, Fire Pits and Outdoor Grilling Safety

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Spring temperatures are rising. Nights are clear and cool. What better time to sit around the campfire sharing stories while roasting marshmallows, making banana boats or grilling out?


Consumer Reports reminds us that each year fire departments in the U.S. respond to approximately 7,900 fires started by grills, hibachis and barbecues. Add to that the number of wildfires and burns related to campfire and fire pits. In children, burns account for 74 percent of camping injuries and are caused by children walking or falling into a fire or its hot coals.


Here are a few safety tips to make sure you and your family are safe while participating in these activities.


Place fire pits, grills, and camp stoves in a safe place.


Use them in well-ventilated areas, away from tents, trailers and sleeping bags. These heating or grilling devices should be used outdoors. Do not place them:

  • Near flammable materials
  • Near the house, garage or outbuildings
  • Under overhanging rooflines or branches
  • Near deck rails, woodpiles, trees and shrubs
  • Close to patio chairs, umbrellas or awnings

Fire Pits and Campfires


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Central Pine Barren's Wildfire Fire Task Force advise that fire pits and campfire safety includes:

  • Dig the fire pit at least 25 feet from trees, bushes and structures
  • A pit should be dug down approximately 12 inches into the ground to prevent ground fires
  • Circle the fire pit with rocks or a metal fire ring
  • Clear a five-foot area around the pit
  • Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby to put out the flames
  • Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire
  • Discard matches used for lighting the pits after they are cold or have been submerged in water
  • Never leave a fire pit/campfire while it is burning

Charcoal Grills


Charcoal grills claim at least 20 lives a year in the United States.

  • Use and store charcoal grills outside to prevent not only fires but also carbon monoxide injuries and deaths
  • Do not use flammable liquids (accelerants) except charcoal starter fluid, and use fluid sparingly
  • Do not use starter fluid on open flames or hot coals
  • Store charcoal lighter fluid out of reach of children and away from heat sources
  • A charcoal starter chimney or electric charcoal starter coil can be used as an alternate for starting coals
  • No matter what type of starter you use, be careful
  • Light chimney woodchips or paper starter with a long match or grill lighters

Propane Gas Grills


Propane grills account for 80 percent of grill fires and may be caused by a leak or break in fuel line.

  • Place gas grills at least 10 feet away from houses and other structures
  • Regularly check the fuel line for leaks
  • The National Fire Protection Association recommends, "Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If your grill has a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill. If the leak stops, have the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department." 
  • Prevent "flash-off" from gas collection by keeping the lid open while lighting a gas grill

Camp Stoves

  • Place the stove on a level, non-flammable surface outdoors, in a well ventilated area
  • Before use, clean with a paper towel or a sponge dipped in warm, soapy water
  • Never immerse camp stoves in water
  • Check all connections and make sure the propane valve is off before connecting the stove to the propane tank/cylinder
  • If the stove does not light immediately, turn off the gas and wait for it to clear before trying to light again
  • Keep your hands and fingers to the side of the burner when lighting
  • Do not use the camp stove as a heater
  • Do not leave camp stoves unattended
  • Always detach the propane cylinder before transporting
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations

More Important Tips

  • Establish a child and pet safety zone around grills, campfires and fire pits
  • Avoid high-traffic areas for grilling campfires and fire pits
  • The National Fire Protection Agency says that children and pets should be kept at least 3 feet away from grills and 10 feet away from fire pits or campfires
  • Supervise children around campfires, grills and camp stoves
    • Children should not play around campfires, fire pits, grills or camp stoves
    • Adult supervision is necessary if children are near the campfire or fire pit
    • Children should wear shoes at sites with campfires to prevent burns from coals that might not have been extinguished or cooled
  • In case of fire:
    • Never try to extinguish a grease fire with water - use a BC fire extinguisher
    • Close the lid and vents of charcoal grills to smother the flames
    • For gas grills, turn off the burners and tank valve if you can do it safely
    • If the tank is on fire evacuate the area and call 911


  • Summer Burn Safety Educator's Guide, American Burn Association. Chicago, Illinois
  • Grill Safely: Don't Let Your Summer Go Up In Smoke. Consumer News. July 2, 2010
  • Grilling Safety. National Fire Protection Agency. Quincy Massachusetts.