How To Start A Fire In A Fire Pit

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There aren’t many things I enjoy as much as gathering my family for an evening around a warm fire. When Mark and I lived in Northern Utah years ago all four of our daughters and their families lived fairly close and we’d get together for a BBQ, swimming, and a fun time around a fire. I’d encourage all my readers to do the same, and that’s why I’ve decided to write about how to start a fire in a fire pit.

Gatherings with fire as a centerpiece have been going on since man first discovered fire. Of course, fires back then were a critical need for basic survival. To have fire available is truly a blessing that we all tend to take for granted. We use a form of fire to run our gas stoves for cooking. We also have a form of fire in our gas furnaces to heat our homes.

Fires can also be experienced as part of a disaster when we see homes, forests, businesses, and more consumed by fire out of control. Yes, fire can be our friend and our worst enemy, depending on the circumstances.

In this post, I’d like to outline how having a fire pit available can prove to be a true lifesaver during an emergency, and how getting one started and maintained safely is important information we can all use. In case you missed this post, My Favorite Emergency Fuel To Store For Survival

How To Start A Fire In A Fire Pit

Why Should I Have a Fire Pit?

By the way, I’ve seen the term or word fire pit as both two words or one. For today’s post, I decided to use the two-word version since it seems to be the most common usage.

Besides being a centerpiece for families during the good times, a fire pit can be the mainstay for your family’s ability to prepare meals and keep warm when a disaster hits. Firepits are a convenient way to cook foods outside if your in-home cooking options aren’t available. They are also a source of heat if you are forced to live or just sleep outside for any reason.

Do I Need to Buy a Fire Pit, or Can I Make My Own?

Mark and I bought a metal firepit a few years ago. One of the attractive things about ours is that it’s small enough to move around our yard. We have a space in the backyard near our lawn where we can put it for an evening campfire or family fireside.

We also can put it on some rocks out front if we have some neighbors over for a fire during Halloween or other cool temperature holiday get-togethers.

Many families will construct a more permanent fire pit in their yard. You need to find a location that’s not too close to any possible fire hazards like a tree, shed, or even your home itself.

Remember, fires can send off ashes with the slightest breeze, so be safe when locating and using the firepit.

I’ve seen firepits made out of concrete, cinderblocks, bricks, flagstone, and metal. I’m not sure the building material makes a lot of difference, you just need to decide how big you want it, whether you want it lined on the bottom, and then dig your hole and place the firepit rim or sides around the hole to the desired height and thickness.

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It seems like most firepits are circular, but you could make it square or rectangle, if that suits you and the space you have available.

What Should I Use as Fuel in My Fire Pit?

All fires need some type of fuel to burn. Most backyard fire pits use various types of wood from local large bushes or trees. To get the fire in the fire pit to start properly you’ll need different sizes of wood pieces and increase them as the fire gets bigger.

Let’s discuss the terms most frequently used:

Tinder

This fuel is usually small, dry, and quick to burn. You should consider gathering some tinder in the form of easy-to-find things like newspaper, pine needles, pine cones, very small tree or bush branches, and even leaves.

This fuel is placed at the bottom of the fire pit and forms the base for the fire. Don’t compact the tinder, it needs air and space so the fire can not only start easily but flare up to the next level of fuel, the kindling.

Kindling

This is the fuel that is ignited by the tinder and lasts long enough to get larger pieces of wood to burn. The idea is to grow your fire by gradually placing larger pieces of fuel on top of the fire.

It is best to form a cone or tee-pee-shaped bunch of wood pieces above the tinder in the size most of us call twigs, small tree branches, or dry sticks.

You actually start the fire by lighting the tinder, which then ignites the kindling, which in turn causes larger branches or logs to then burst into flame. As mentioned above, it’s important to place the kindling so it gets plenty of air or it won’t burn properly.

Firewood

Why is this fuel often referred to as seasoned firewood? This fuel is made up of split logs, large branches, or other larger pieces of wood that are available. The keyword here is “seasoned.”

If you go out in the forest to gather firewood, it is hard to determine how old the wood might be. If you’re allowed to cut live trees, they represent the least seasoned wood available since they are still green.

Seasoned firewood is wood that has been given enough time to fully dry out. It should be kept under an overhanging cover, or even a waterproof tarp for an extended period so it can completely dry out.

It could take months, or even years to be dry enough to efficiently burn in your fire pit. The goal is a 20% – 30% moisture content, but who knows how to measure that?

How To Start A Fire In A Fire Pit

So How Do I Light the Fire in My Fire Pit

You’d think lighting the fire after all this preparation work would be the easiest task. In a perfect world that would be the case, but life doesn’t seem to go perfectly when it comes to fires.

You’ll find that wind and moisture are your biggest challenges getting the fire going.

Mark tells me stories of being in the Boy Scouts and having to start a fire up in the mountains on a campout. Often mountain breezes came into play, or a late afternoon rainstorm suddenly took the troop by surprise before they could get a fire going.

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All us Boy or Girl Scouts know we need matches whenever we want to start a fire outside. Matches are fine, but they don’t put out much of a flame. If your tinder and kindling are small and dry enough you could make them work.

Otherwise, you’ll need something with a larger flame, like a cigarette lighter, or even a butane torch lighter.

We have a bunch of butane torch lighters stored in our kitchen. For the most part, they work ok, but I wish they were made better so they’d be more reliable. You have to push a button while you flip or roll a switch.

It usually takes me a few minutes to get one to light. Once they do light, the flame generally is sufficient enough to light the tinder, and away we go. I use one of these, Fire Starter Chimney In the first picture above and the one below, you can see a circular tube with a handle attached. I call it my fire starter chimney and it has come in handy a number of times. With the tinder inside you can more easily start the fire because the chimney helps protect against the wind, and the fire is more concentrated. They work great.

Long Reach Matches by Diamond

How To Start A Fire In A Fire Pit

What Are Some Safety Issues When Using a Fire Pit

We discussed earlier the importance of placing the firepit in a location with limited exposure to flammable materials. That also goes for the fuel you plan to burn during your cooking or campfire session. Keep those logs at a safe distance from the firepit itself until you’re ready to use them.

Don’t let the fire get too big based on the size of the fire pit and what is close by. Maintaining control is so critical. Always have a large bucket or two of water, or even a water hose, close at hand so you can douse the fire if needed.

You’ll also want to fully extinguish the fire before you retire for the night. Don’t get lazy and think the fire will eventually die out and be safe. Use that water to be sure. Look for any “hotspots” throughout the firepit itself.

Some tools you may want to have available so your fire pit experience goes as planned without any injury to you or a family member would include a fire poker, some tongs, and fireproof gloves. I’ve even seen people wear goggles, although I think that may be overkill.

Final Word

It has been fun and interesting to write about fire pits. During my research, I’ve discovered some new ideas when it comes to how to start a fire in a fire pit. We all enjoy a warm friendly fire on those cool nights.

A fire pit can be the nucleus of a memorable family or neighborhood activity. The key is to get a brisk fire started and maintained properly.

With the information shared today, that should be an easy task for any of my readers. Let’s all keep prepping and make the most of every day. May God bless this world. Linda

14 thoughts on “How To Start A Fire In A Fire Pit

  • September 19, 2021 at 5:58 am
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    I’m using wood that’s 3-4 yrs old. There’s very little smoke signature. That’s your goal. You won’t have it starting out most likely like any other prep but thats your goal.
    If you cut your own wood and as you gain experience you’ll be able to judge moisture content by weight and feel of the wood.
    For the pit I prefer good smelling wood like pecan or mulberry.
    I build my fire in the pit the same as the fireplace. I leave it set up so if I’m not home the wife can light it and walk away and I know it’ll take.
    I use the tepee method with dryer lint and a little cardboard on bottom, then twigs, then sticks.
    The twigs and sticks are collected from my yard full of trees before I mow throughout the year and bagged in chicken feed bags. The dryer lint is collected in discarded TP rolls as we do laundry.
    I made a tripod to hang a pot from using chain in case I need to cook with it. But mostly it’s recreational. There’s something bout just sitting and feeding a fire that’s calming and even children love.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2021 at 8:40 am
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      Hi Matt, oh, I love a good fire pit!! There really is something about sitting around a fire with family and friends. The popping of the fire, the feeling of love shared around the firepit its the best! Linda

      Reply
    • September 20, 2021 at 8:34 am
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      I used to convert my greenhouse into a ‘woodshed’ for tinder and kindling …yep, toilet or paper towel rolls filled with dryer lint, small branches, bark pieces that broke off from logs, newspapers twisted, food boxes flattened, cardboard tore into pieces. I’d start filling this tiny (7x7x8) greenhouse the start of August after I’d cleaned it out. Plenty to use for my fire pit and my home fireplace and wood-burning stove thru the fall and winter. Its kinda funny you mentioned the tp rolls with lint as my grandson just asked me where we now keep them as I took down the GH. Yep, he was doing a bonfire. I told him he’d need to grab food boxes from our recycling bin. He kind of forgets that I don’t do even half of what I used to. Maybe he will start doing the things I used to? Peace, Matt

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      • September 20, 2021 at 9:07 am
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        We always hope they do. One of mine has embraced it and the other not so much but she still knows and will when needed

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  • September 19, 2021 at 8:00 am
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    I know how to make a fire in a dug out hole in he ground does that count? My husband taught me how to do many things when I was first married. And the things he taught me you never forget.

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    • September 19, 2021 at 8:43 am
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      Hi Jackie, it sure does count, my friend! Memories of what he taught you will always be ready for you to take charge! What a blessing. I went to take pictures last night and couldn’t find any logs to put on top of the wood pieces in the picture. And we were running out of light, so, that’s how I start my fires!! Life is good. Linda

      Reply
  • September 19, 2021 at 11:43 am
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    Our son in law is THE master of the firepit. He plans it and monitors it like a mother with a new baby! He will not allow just anything burned. No newspaper or anything with glue or ink. For his birthday we bought him 2 cords of apple wood. An evening at their home with a good fire and good friends, is warming to the body, the heart and the soul.

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    • September 19, 2021 at 12:56 pm
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      Hi Chris, oh what a blessing to have someone take charge of the fire pit! Oh my, applewood sounds awesome!! 2 cords of applewood is the best gift ever!! This is the BEST COMMENT EVER!! What an awesome gift! Linda

      Reply
  • September 19, 2021 at 1:32 pm
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    We supplement our heat in the house with a woodstove. There’s just something sooo much better about woodstove heat! We start off each year with 6 cords of hard wood (usually walnut or oak) but only burn about 2 cords. (I like to be prepared…wink, wink) When we get new wood delivered each spring (too old and broken to cut it anymore ourselves!) it’s green and needs to “season” for a year. We rotate all our wood on the fence under an overhang and with our lean-to areas that are closest to the back door (that snow gets deep!) We still have a firepit in our backyard but with all the fires in Northern California, we haven’t been allowed to burn it for 2 summers now. It’s super windy today, 40+mph winds, so that’s out of the question even tho it’s only 64 degrees today. Besides, as much as I love the smell of wood smoke, I think we’ve had enough of it, especially this summer, to last me quite some time! Reno has been inundated with smoke since July from the Dixie fire and then the Caldor fire! Both are still burning.

    One thing I wanted to mention about the pictures you posted – I have always been told to not burn pine cones. They burn real hot, fast and they tend to pop and explode. Maybe they can be good for starting fires but I would never use them inside in my woodstove. We generally stay away from them completely which is too bad because my neighbor’s pine tree pinecones all fall in “my” yard instead of his! I like to buy the firestarters from Home Depot – Rutland, I think it’s called. They come in squares and I usually break them smaller so I can make them last. They’re pretty good.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2021 at 6:15 pm
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      Hi Robbie, great comment on the pinecones, I only use them for starting a fire in the fire pit and for my Kelly Kettle. You can burn dried leaves, twigs, and pinecones in it. So fuel is basically free. We can’t have any open fire here in Southern Utah for fear of the fires getting out of control. I agree we have all seen too many fires and smoke the last few years. Hopefully, things will calm down and we can get back to normal whatever that else now. Stay safe, stay well, Linda

      Reply
  • September 19, 2021 at 9:14 pm
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    I’m with Matt, the tipi is my favorite start method too.
    I do keep a bucket of pine cones… I can see the argument about not using them inside a woodstove, but outside, they are great. In fact, when I was a kid, my mother used to soak pine cones in various solutions, then dry them out–when put in the fireplace (just one or two), they’d burn in beautiful colors! I should look up what they were soaked in.

    Re. matches–yes, even wooden matches can be tricky outdoors. However–if you carefully shave little slivers, leaving them still attached near the head, then once you strike the match, it makes a bigger flame that’s harder to blow out. Same idea as a candle with two wicks a quarter inch apart. Let’s be glad we don’t *have* to use flint and steel–although it’s useful to know!

    An old maxim for once the tinder fire is going–“one won’t, two may, three will.” You need at least two sticks of firewood, touching, to keep it burning.

    Reply
  • September 20, 2021 at 9:00 am
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    Linda, your article sure brought memories and some new things I do. You mentioned using those long lighters…I too have a problem with them. Um, never used for campfire but my son likes for lighting our propane water heater…I got Long Reach Matches by Diamond for me to use. I bet they’d work great for a fire pit. So, onto memories…I dug out a fire pit almost 20 yrs ago, on 3 sides I put old concrete blocks from a house being torn down. One layer of these blocks above ground. I left the fourth side open to be able to scoop out stuff. I think this fire pit is about 6 ft long, 3 foot wide. We’ve burned any and everything in it except plastics. My youngest boys had ‘camp-outs’ around it in pup tents with their friends near it. Oh, something I always did was to turn on my hose at a trickle (after moistening the ground), for ‘just in case’. Sparks can travel a ways with the slightest breeze. We also kept 2 shovels nearby. It doesn’t take much to get a wildfire in a hayfield.

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    • September 20, 2021 at 9:35 am
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      Hi Wendy, oh my gosh that fire pit sounds awesome. I can almost visualize the boys camping out around it!! How fun! You’re like me, I always have a hose ready to use by the fire pit. I need to get some of those Long Reach Matches by Diamond. Great tip!! Love it! Linda

      Reply

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