How to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit

by Raymond Archambault
armpit in the forest

There are very few things quite as relaxing as just sitting and staring into a wood fire burning away in your backyard as you wind the evening down with some friends. Apart from providing you with a safe and sanitary space for your campfires, the best fire pits bring additional style to your backyard. 

Depending on what you choose, your outdoor fire pit can also act as a conversation starter that breaks the ice during social events.

However, just because you went out of your way to buy the best fire pit doesn’t mean that your job is done. You also need to learn how to use it, which means learning how to start a fire in a fire pit. 

There are different types of outdoor fire pit on the market today. You will find that some are wood-burning, others use propane, and many others use natural gas. Regardless of the type, learning how to start and maintain a fire in your specific fire pit is an essential skill every backyard owner with a fire pit needs to master.

With that said, here is a step-by-step guide for how to start a fire in a fire pit.

Fire Pit Safety

You need to remember that regardless of your fire pit style, you will still have an open flame burning within it, which always brings up safety issues. Here are some steps you need to take to ensure that everyone and everything around your fire pit is safe from the fire that you are about to start:

  • If the fire pit is above ground, make sure that it’s on level ground
  • Ensure that your fire pit is at least 10 feet from any flammable structure such as your fence, your home, trees and so on
  • Check to see that the prevailing conditions aren’t too windy, as this might make the resulting fire difficult to control
  • Maintain a reasonable distance from the fire and ensure that kids and pets aren’t playing around it
  • Make sure not to use any toxic or dangerous propellants to start the fire
  • Always have an eye on the fire, no matter how big or small the flame might be at the time

Now that you have the fire safety bit under control, let’s take a quick look at how to start a fire in a fire pit.

Step 1: Gather the Materials You Need

You are going to want everything within reach before you start the fire. This calls for the gathering of the necessary materials. Here is a short list of what you will need to successfully build a fire in your fire pit:

  • Firestarter: You have a world of options when it comes to fire starters for your outdoor fire. You can use match sticks or a kitchen lighter of your choice. You could also go for the more convenient butane torch or electric arc lighters.
  • Tinder: This is what you will use to start the fire. Your tinder can be quite literally anything non-toxic and dry. Think of old newspapers, dry leaves, dry grass, tree bark, pine cone, and so on. Just make sure it can easily catch on fire and can burn for a reasonable amount of time.
  • Kindling: You will also need smaller sticks that can burn for much longer than your tinder. This is what will give the firewood enough time to catch fire. Your kindling should be dry enough to catch fire before your tinder burns out. The best options often include twigs and larger sticks from softwoods such as cedar, pine and spruce.
  • Firewood: Without firewood for your backyard fire pit, you don’t have a fire, at least not a long-lasting one. Your firewood needs to be dry. The best type of firewood comes from hardwood trees such as oak, birch and maple. They need to be sizeable enough to catch fire easily yet burn for a much longer period than the kindling.

Step 2: Light the Fire

The materials you have gathered should be good enough for you to start the fire in your fire pit without using lighter fluid or any other kind of toxic substance. Here are the steps you need to take to achieve that end:

  • Take your tinder and make a small pile in the center of your fire pit. This pile shouldn’t be too big; rather, it should be a pile the size of your fist or a small bird’s nest 
  • Get your kindling and put some of it directly over your tinder. Make sure to place it at an approximately 35-degree angle with small spaces between the twigs for adequate airflow
  • Using your fire starter of choice, light the tinder and closely watch it as it lights the kindling on fire too
  • Once the kindling starts burning consistently, it’s time to place the firewood. It’s best to start with smaller bits of wood and gradually increase the sizes as the fire gets more and more stable

Note: The firewood placement structure you choose should closely match that of the kindling. If you used a tee-pee or a pyramid shape for your kindling, then that is what you should use for your firewood. Also, remember to leave small gaps between the pieces of wood for adequate airflow.

Step 3: Keep the Fire Going

Now that you have successfully started a fire in your fire pit, you need to maintain that fire for the desired duration unless it was just for demonstration purposes.

Maintaining the fire is all about firewood management. The first thing you need to do is make sure that all the firewood you gathered is dry and good to burn. Wet firewood will not only create a lot of smoke, but if you put enough of it over your fire at the same time, it might just put out the fire while producing an obscene amount of smoke.

If the firewood is dry enough, but the fire isn’t going as strong as you would like it to, feel free to add a bit of kindling and maybe even tinder to fire things up (no pun intended). Remember to also turn and move the different pieces of firewood as they burn away. They are going to turn black and start to crumble otherwise.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep some marshmallows nearby!

firepit in fire

Source: Pixabay

Step 4: Putting Out the Fire in Your Fire Pit

The final important step is learning how to safely put out the fire in your fire pit. If you don’t tend to it, the fire will go out on its own, but that is always a dangerous proposition as far as fire safety is concerned. 

Here are the steps you need to take to put out the fire in your fire pit:

  • Pour a little water over it from a hose or a jug. Be sure not to dump water on it, as this might damage your fire pit and blow out a lot of ash
  • Once the flames are out, use a shovel to turn the ash around until there’s hardly any hissing sound
  • Gently place your hand on the ash to make sure that it’s cool before disposing of it
  • As a safety precaution, always have a fire extinguisher close by in case you need to put out a fire quickly

And there you have it, a simple step-by-step guide on how to build a fire in a fire pit.

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