The key to a safe bonfire is making certain that you can manage the area at all times. The U.S. Fire Administration (FEMA) recommends building bonfires away from dry grass, leaves and low-hanging branches, which can cause the fire to spread out of control. Laws vary by location, but many mandate that bonfire users allow at least 50 feet of space in between the fire and your home.
A pit that is at least 2 feet wider than the fire, and at least 12 to 18 inches in depth is the safest way to have a bonfire (as opposed to simply building a fire on flat ground). Surround the outside of the circle with larger rocks and line the bottom of it with smaller rocks or pebbles. (If you don’t want to dig up your backyard, consider a store-bought fire pit).
Kids and teens (and some adults) get caught up in the novelty of a fire. Be clear that the fire is for viewing enjoyment only, and that it poses a serious threat to all. Don’t allow kids to run near the flames, and be mindful of breezy conditions which can carry burning embers away from the bonfire site, causing unintentional spreading. Keep the flame smaller than 3 feet tall to make sure that it doesn’t spread out of hand.
Just because it burns doesn’t mean it belongs in a bonfire. Stay away from burning mulch, leaves or even twigs. A bonfire should be "fed" clean, dry, seasoned firewood only.
Gasoline and alcohol have no place near a fire. To ensure bonfire safety, keep a shovel and at least one large bucket of water or a hose nearby in the event that flames get out of hand and you need to douse the fire. Once you’ve put the flames out, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends stirring the charred pile around and dousing it again, to ensure that all embers have been extinguished.
Particularly if you’re holding a bonfire in conjunction with a party, or into the wee hours of the morning when participants are likely to get distracted or sleepy, make sure that at least one person always keeps an eye on the fire. Likewise, never leave a bonfire unattended to "burn down" on its own when the party ends.
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