Building a safe bonfire | Living the Country Life

Building a safe bonfire

Before you strike a match to light your bonfire, read this safety information.

My favorite activity in the fall is going to a bonfire. We roast hotdogs and marshmallows and everybody has a great time.

Tony Collins is a fire marshall for Clive, Iowa. He says before you strike the first match, find out if it's legal to build a bonfire on your property.  You may need prior permission with a permit, and most jurisdictions will give you a check list of safety considerations.

"It'll list conditions, hazardous conditions, dry conditions, prevailing winds, the speed of the winds, types of fuel to use, how to ignite it, security and fire ground monitors – people that are put in positions to monitor floating embers that can start other fires – distance requirements from structures," says Collins.

Collins says your bonfire should be in an open area at least 50-feet from the nearest building.  Burn dry, seasoned wood -- no railroad ties, nothing coated or treated, and for Pete's sake, don't toss furniture on it. The pile shouldn't be much bigger than 5'x5' to keep the flames manageable.

Collins says it's acceptable to use charcoal lighter fluid to light the fire, but do it safely.

"Put it on anywhere from a 5'-6' torch-type pole, a long stick or something that you soak the end of," he says. "Then after you're done soaking that tip, you want to make sure the lid on that charcoal fluid is covered and a safe distance away because if you just set it down, and the lid's still open, the vapors are escaping out of the can."

If the vapor travels toward the fire and the fire ignites the can, you might have an explosion. Keep a couple of 5-gallon buckets of water nearby to soak down anything that gets out of hand.  

After the bonfire is done, turn over the charred materials with metal shovels and rakes, and douse the area with water.

Learn more:

Find tips for outdoor fire safety rules

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