How to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit: A Beginner's Guide

How to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit: A Beginner’s Guide


Have you ever looked at a fire pit and wondered how to start a fire that crackles with warmth and charm? Fire pits, whether made of metal or stone, can turn outdoor spaces into cozy gathering spots. They provide comfort on cold nights and create the perfect atmosphere for sharing stories or roasting marshmallows. This guide is specifically designed for beginners and will walk you through the basic steps of starting a fire in a fire pit.

Understanding Fire Pit Basics

Before we begin, it’s important to understand some basics. Fire pits come in different types: metal, stone, and more. Regardless of the type, the key principles of starting and maintaining a safe fire remain consistent across all. In this guide, we’ll cover everything – from the essential tools you need to safety precautions.

A cozy fire pit with lively flames dancing in the darkness.

Essential Tools and Materials

Starting a fire in a pit is not as complicated as it may seem. With the right tools and materials at your disposal, you’ll have those flames dancing in no time. The essentials include fire starters (like newspaper or dry leaves), tinder (small twigs or dry grass), kindling, and of course, the firewood.

Safety First

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to prioritize safety when dealing with fires. Keeping a safe distance and placing your fire pit on non-flammable surfaces like concrete or gravel is crucial. Always remember to check for any local regulations or restrictions on open fires before you ignite your first flame.

The Appeal of Fire Pits

Beyond practicality, there’s something inherently appealing about having a fire pit. It adds an element of warmth to your outdoor space, both literally and figuratively. Whether it’s hosting an alfresco dinner party under the stars or simply enjoying some quiet time on a cool evening, a fire pit enhances those experiences.

This guide aims to equip beginners with all they need to know about starting a fire in a fire pit. We’ll provide an in-depth look into each step of the process – from ensuring safety precautions to gathering essential materials, and from starting your fire to maintaining it safely.

Kids camp fire

Section 1: Ensuring Safety Precautions

Before lighting up your fire pit, prioritizing safety can make the difference between a cozy night under the stars and a call to emergency services. Fire pit safety is not just a recommendation; it’s essential for protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your property. Here’s what you need to do:

Check Local Regulations and Permits for Fire Pits

  • Research local laws: Some areas have specific rules regarding open fires. Ensure you’re not violating any ordinances by checking with local authorities or fire departments.
  • Acquire necessary permits: If required, obtain any permits to legally start a fire in your outdoor space.

Create Adequate Clearance Around the Fire Pit Area

  • Positioning: Place your fire pit on a solid, non-flammable surface such as concrete or gravel. Avoid grass or wooden decks which could easily catch fire.
  • Distance: Ensure the pit is at least 10 feet away from fences, trees, and structures. This buffer zone minimizes the risk of accidental fire spread.

Maintain a Safe Environment

  • Debris-free zone: Clear around the fire pit to remove flammable materials like leaves or branches that could ignite.
  • Stable base: Confirm the fire pit sits levelly to prevent tipping over and spreading embers.
  • Ready resources: Keep a bucket of water, sand, or a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach for quick access in emergencies.

Use Safe Fire-Starting Practices

  • Avoid accelerants: Steer clear of gasoline or lighter fluid which can cause unexpected flare-ups. Instead, opt for safer ignition methods like matches or lighters.
  • Supervision is key: Never leave a lit fire unattended. Always be present to monitor and control the burn.

Personal Safety Measures

  • Protective distance: Stay back from the flames to avoid burns or injuries. A safe distance allows you to enjoy the warmth without risk.
  • Attire consideration: Wear non-flammable clothing and avoid loose garments that could catch fire.

By following these guidelines, you set the stage for not just an enjoyable evening but also peace of mind knowing you’ve taken proactive steps towards responsible enjoyment of your fire pit.

roaring campfire at night

Section 2: Preparing Your Fire Pit

Let’s dive into prepping your fire pit. It’s not just about having all the right materials; it’s equally important to ensure your fire pit is ready for action. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting it set up right.

Clearing the Surroundings and Creating a Fire-Safe Zone

  1. Remove Debris: Start by ensuring your fire pit is free of debris. Leaves, twigs, and other loose material can pose a safety risk if they catch fire. Sweep these away from your fire pit and the surrounding area. Example: Use a broom or rake to clear out leaves and twigs from the fire pit itself as well as the area around it.
  2. Check for Overhanging Hazards: Look up! Are there any overhanging branches or nearby structures? These could be potential fire hazards once your fire is going. Example: Trim any branches hanging directly above your fire pit. If your fire pit is close to a fence or shed, consider moving it to a safer location.

Choosing the Right Location for Your Fire Pit

  1. Stable, Non-Flammable Surface: Check that your fire pit sits on a stable, non-flammable surface such as concrete or gravel. This will reduce the chance of accidental spreading of embers or tipping of the fire pit. Example: If you have a garden with grassy areas and concrete areas, opt for placing your fire pit on the concrete surface.
  2. Enough Clearance: Ensure there’s enough clearance all around your fire pit. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 10 feet clearance on all sides. Example: If you’re setting up in an open space like a backyard, make sure there are no flammable items (like patio furniture) within this 10-foot radius.

Examining Your Fire Pit

  1. Inspect for Damage: Before you start building your fire, take a moment to examine the condition of your fire pit. Any signs of damage or wear and tear could impact its ability to safely contain a fire. Example: Look for any cracks in a stone fire pit or rust on a metal one. If you spot any, consider repairing or replacing your fire pit before use.

Preparation is key in everything, especially when it comes to safety. By following these guidelines, you’re setting the stage for a successful and controlled fire in your fire pit. With these steps done, you’re ready to gather all the essential materials for your fire.

Camping in Minnesota.

Section 3: Gathering the Essential Materials

Before you light your fire pit, it’s important to gather the right materials. This step is just as crucial as actually starting the fire. Here’s what you need to do:

Fire Starters

To get your fire going, you’ll need reliable fire starters. Here are some options:

  • Newspaper: It’s easy to find and ignites quickly.
  • Dry Leaves: You can collect these from your yard, but make sure they’re completely dry.
  • Commercial Fire Starters: These are specially made to light fires quickly and efficiently.

The key is to choose something that catches fire easily and keeps burning long enough to ignite the tinder.


Tinder is like the middleman between your initial flame and a full-blown fire. You need to use materials that catch fire easily, such as:

  • Small Twigs: They should break easily, which means they’re dry enough to burn.
  • Dry Grass: Make sure it’s completely dried out to avoid excessive smoke.
  • Pine Needles: If you have pine trees around, these are great because they’re highly flammable.

A handful of tinder is usually enough to get your fire started.


The quality and size of your firewood play a big role in how long your fire will last. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Start with Kindling:Use smaller sticks that are no thicker than your finger.
  • This helps create a small flame that can gradually grow bigger.
  • Move on to Medium-Sized Logs:Once your kindling is burning steadily, add medium-sized logs.
  • These will provide a solid base for larger logs later on.
  • Finish with Larger Logs:Dense hardwoods like oak or maple are great for long-lasting fires.
  • Stack them in a way that allows air to flow through for better combustion.

It’s good to have a mix of different sizes so you can control the intensity of your fire.

Additional Tips

Here are some extra things to keep in mind:

  • Store your materials in a dry place: Moisture can make it difficult to ignite your fire.
  • Use a lighter or matches: These are the most common tools for starting a fire, so make sure you have them nearby.
  • Always have extra tinder: If your fire starts to die down, adding more tinder can help revive it.

Every environment has its own resources that you can use as tinder:

  • In urban areas, shredded paper or lint from a dryer can work well.
  • If you’re in a wooded location, look for birch bark or pine wood with lots of resin.

Understanding what’s available in your surroundings can be really helpful, especially if you often find yourself starting fires in different places.

Not all types of wood are equally good for burning in a fire pit:

  • Hardwoods like hickory or oak produce more heat and last longer.
  • Softwoods such as pine or cedar burn quickly and are better for kindling.

Make sure the wood you use has been seasoned, which means it’s been dried for at least six months. Wet wood creates more smoke and less heat.

Patience is key. Take your time gathering and arranging these materials properly. A well-prepared fire pit not only lights more efficiently but also provides a safer and more enjoyable experience. With everything in place, you’re ready to move onto the next step: building and lighting your fire pit with confidence.

Fancy firepit with beautiful ocean background in Dubai.

Section 4: Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Fire Pit

Starting a fire in your fire pit can be a rewarding experience, but it’s essential to follow a step-by-step process to ensure safety and success. Here’s how you can build and light your fire effectively:

Preparation is Key

Before building your fire pit, it’s crucial to ensure the area is safe:

  • Clear Debris: Remove leaves, twigs, and other flammable materials from around the fire pit.
  • Stable Surface: Place your fire pit on a non-flammable surface such as concrete or gravel.

Building the Fire Structure

The arrangement of wood affects airflow and the fire’s growth. There are two common methods for arranging your wood: teepee and log cabin.

  • Teepee Structure: Stand kindling upright around your tinder, leaning them against each other to form a cone shape. This structure allows air to circulate freely and feeds the flames from below.
  • Log Cabin Structure: Lay two larger pieces of wood parallel to each other on either side of the tinder. Then, place two more pieces on top of these at right angles to form a square. Continue alternating layers like building a cabin. The center space allows air to flow through and feed the fire.

Lighting the Fire

  • Arrange the Tinder in the Center of the Fire PitPlace your chosen tinder (dry leaves, newspaper) in the middle of the pit.
  • Layer Kindling Wood Over the Tinder in a Crisscross PatternCarefully arrange kindling over tinder without smothering it—think loose enough for air to flow but close enough for flames to catch.
  • Add Larger Firewood Logs to Establish a Sturdy BaseOnce you have a small flame, begin adding larger pieces of wood.
  • Remember not to rush this step; give smaller pieces time to ignite fully before adding more substantial logs.

Igniting Your Fire

Choose your ignition method:

  • Matches or Lighters: Traditional yet effective; ignite your tinder and watch as the flames grow.
  • Commercial Fire Starters: If available, these can offer a more reliable start, especially in damp conditions.

As you light the tinder, make sure you’re careful not to disrupt the arrangement of wood. Patience here will pay off with a steady, strong flame that’s ready for larger logs.

handsome man in suit by firepit on rooftop in front of skyline

Maintaining Your Fire

Once lit, give attention to how your fire burns:

  • Add more kindling if needed until larger logs catch fire.
  • Adjust logs with a poker to maintain good airflow and control burn rate.
  • As larger pieces catch, add more logs carefully to build up your fire.

Remember that starting a fire is not just about lighting it; it’s about nurturing it into a stable blaze that will last for hours.

Note: As this guide focuses on starting your fire pit, remember that keeping it going safely requires regular attention. Upcoming sections will delve into maintaining and extinguishing your fire responsibly—essential skills for any aspiring fire pit master.

Section 5: Nurturing and Maintaining the Fire

Once you’ve successfully sparked your fire, it’s not time to sit back and relax just yet. Maintaining fire is an art in itself. It’s about striking a balance, keeping your flames alive without letting them get out of control.

Regularly Add Small Pieces of Wood

Keep a stockpile of small, dry pieces of wood at the ready. As your fire burns, it will gradually consume the fuel you’ve provided. By adding small pieces of wood regularly, you’ll ensure that your fire has a constant supply of fuel. This way, it won’t die out unexpectedly.

Tip: Choose hardwoods like oak or maple for this purpose. These woods burn longer and hotter than softer woods.

Use a Poker or Stick to Rearrange the Logs

The arrangement of logs in your fire pit can greatly influence how well your fire burns. Over time, as wood burns and turns into ash, the arrangement may need adjustment.

Use a poker or stick to move around the burning logs. Aim for an arrangement that allows for airflow between the logs while keeping them close enough to feed off each other’s heat.

Warning: Never use your hands or any flammable object to rearrange the logs.

Monitor Fire and Adjust Airflow

Airflow is crucial in maintaining a healthy fire. It’s important to keep an eye on your fire and adjust the airflow as needed. If your fire is burning too fast or too hot, try reducing airflow by rearranging the logs closer together. If it’s struggling to stay lit, increase airflow by spreading them out slightly.

summer nights

Adding Fuel Gradually

Be mindful not to overload your fire pit with wood all at once. Add fuel gradually to sustain the flame in your fire pit without overwhelming it.

Remember: A smaller, controlled fire is safer and easier to manage than a large, unruly one.

In the end, tending to a fire is much like caring for a living thing. It requires your attention and understanding. By regularly checking the fire’s progress, adjusting as needed, and adding more fuel when necessary, you can ensure your fire continues to burn at an optimal level.

Surely, there’s something deeply satisfying about nurturing a fire from spark to roaring flames. So, spend some time mastering these techniques of maintaining a fire. Enjoy the warmth and charm it brings to your outdoor gatherings.

Section 6: Proper Extinguishment and Clean-Up

When you’re done for the day, it’s important to properly put out the fire. This not only ensures everyone’s safety but also helps maintain the lifespan of your fire pit. Let’s go through the steps together.

Use the Right Tools

  1. Shovel or Rake: A shovel or rake comes in handy for spreading out embers and leftover wood in the fire pit. This helps them cool down faster, making it safer to proceed with extinguishing the fire.
  2. Bucket of Water or Fire Extinguisher: Water is usually used to completely extinguish the fire, but having a fire extinguisher as a backup is always a good idea.

The Process

Step 1: Letting the Fire Die Down

Give the fire room to naturally dwindle by permitting it to burn down as much as possible before you take any action. This approach helps to reduce the amount of smoke and steam produced when water is later applied. It’s not only safer, but it also minimizes the risk of wood particles becoming airborne due to sudden steam production.

Step 2: Spreading Out Embers

Once the fire has significantly died down, take your shovel or rake and carefully spread out any remaining embers within the pit. This process allows heat to escape more quickly, and it also exposes all parts of the embers to air, further aiding in their cooldown.

Step 3: Adding Water

After all embers have been well spread out, it’s time for water application. Slowly pour water over the entire pit, making sure to concentrate on areas that continue to emit heat or light. The goal here is to saturate all remaining materials in the pit without causing excessive steam or splashing embers out of the fire pit.

Note:Always pour water slowly and steadily. A sudden rush of water can cause hot ashes or embers to splash out of the pit.

Step 4: Stirring Ashes

Once water has been added, use your shovel or rake again to stir around ashes and any unburned pieces left within the pit. This action ensures that everything gets wet, thus eliminating any potential hotspots that could reignite.

Double Check Your Work

After completing these steps, do a safety check. Hold your hand at a safe distance above the ashes – you should not feel any residual heat coming from them. If you sense warmth, it’s an indication that some parts may still be active. In this case, repeat steps 3 (adding water) and 4 (stirring ashes) until you can no longer feel heat emitting from the pit.

Remember:Safety should always be your top priority. Always ensure that your fire pit is completely extinguished before leaving it unattended.

Post-Extinguishment Steps

The expanded text:

Once you’re confident that your fire pit no longer has burning embers, follow these detailed steps for safe handling and cleaning:

Post-Extinguishment Steps

  1. Wait for Ashes to Cool Down: After extinguishing the fire, don’t rush to clean up. It is essential to let all remnants cool before handling them. Ideally, wait about 30 minutes or until you can place your hand above the ashes (at a safe distance) without feeling any heat. This step ensures that there are no hidden hot spots that could lead to burns or reignite.
  2. Clean-Up: Once everything has cooled down, it’s time for clean-up. Use a metal shovel or fire pit tool to carefully scoop out the cooled ashes. Ensure you get all the ashes, even those nestled in corners or along the sides of the pit.
  3. Proper Disposal: Now that you have your cooled ashes collected, it’s time to dispose of them appropriately. Place them in a metal container – never use plastic or other materials that could melt or ignite from residual heat. Always follow local regulations and guidelines for ash disposal as they may vary by location.

Final Inspection of Fire Pit

Before calling it a day, take a moment for a final inspection of your fire pit:

  • Check for Damage: Look for any signs of damage such as cracks, structural weakness, or erosion caused by water or heat.
  • Look at the Grate: If your fire pit has a grate, check its condition too. Look for any warping, rusting, or breakages.
  • Consider Future Maintenance: Based on your inspection, consider what maintenance tasks might need attention before the next use such as repairing damage, removing rust, replacing parts, etc.
  1. By following these steps consistently after each use of your fire pit, you ensure its longevity and safety for many more enjoyable fires to come.

Method 1: Using Water to Douse the Flames and Cool Down the Fire Pit

Expanding on the original text, here’s a more detailed guide to safely extinguishing a fire pit using the most common method – water:

Step 1: Let the Wood Burn Down

Allow the bulk of the wood in your fire pit to burn down naturally to ash. This reduces the amount of smoke produced when water is added. The smaller the embers, the less water you will need and the less likely it is for steam to be created, which can cause burns if not handled properly.

Step 2: Spread out Embers

Next, use a metal shovel or rake to spread out the remaining embers evenly across your fire pit. This action ensures that all hot spots are exposed and ready for cooling. It also allows you to visually confirm that all pieces of wood have been fully consumed by the fire.

Step 3: Add Water Gradually

Begin by slowly pouring a bucket of water over the spread-out embers. While doing so, use your shovel to stir them around. This step helps distribute the water evenly and cools down all areas of your fire pit more quickly. Be prepared for some sizzling sounds – this is normal and is an indicator that your actions are effectively extinguishing the fire.

Step 4: Stir and Pour More Water If Necessary

Continue stirring the embers with your shovel and gradually add more water if needed until everything in your fire pit is thoroughly soaked. How do you know when this is achieved? You should see no steam or smoke rising from the pit anymore, indicating that all residual heat has been safely extinguished.

Note: Avoid pouring too much water at once as it can displace ash or create a cloud of steam which could lead to burns.

Post-Extinguishment: Dispose of Cooled Ashes

After extinguishing your fire pit, wait until it has completely cooled before handling ashes – typically about 30 minutes. Once cool, scoop out the ashes with a shovel and place them in a metal container. Remember to follow local regulations when disposing of these cooled ashes.

Pro tip: Never dispose of ashes in a compost pile or regular garbage bin as they can contain live coals which could lead to unintended fires. Always use a designated, fire-proof container for ash disposal.

  1. By following these steps, you can ensure a safe and effective extinguishing process for your fire pit. Happy (and safe) burning!

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when dealing with fire, even when it’s time to put it out! Now that you know how to safely extinguish your fire pit, let’s move on to keeping it clean and ready for its next use.

Camping in the rain!


Starting a fire in a fire pit can be an exciting and rewarding experience, especially for those new to the process. Equipped with the right knowledge and tools, you can transform your outdoor gatherings into cozy, memorable occasions. Embrace the steps provided in this beginner’s guide to ignite a blaze that will light up your evening with ease.

Mastering the Basics

  • Knowledge is power: Understanding how to start a fire in a fire pit is essential. This guide has laid out the straightforward steps to get your fire roaring.
  • Tools of the trade: Remember, having the correct materials such as tinder, kindling, and firewood at hand makes all the difference.

Safety as a Priority

  • Never take chances: Your safety and that of those around you should always be at the forefront. Ensure you’re familiar with local regulations and have safety equipment like water or a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Unattended fires: A big no-no. Always keep an eye on your fire and make sure it’s completely extinguished before calling it a night.
Searching for a camp spot, we found a long dirt road that we drove down and discovered this amazing little spot. We cleared it out, and discovered the moss bench (back of photo) and built a fire. Right next to this spot there is a rushing river which makes it the perfect setting to fall asleep to!

Practicing Your Skills

  • Trial and improvement: Each fire you start is an opportunity to refine your technique. Don’t worry if it takes a few tries; practice makes perfect.
  • Experience builds confidence: The more you work on starting fires, the more proficient you’ll become.

Sharing Your Success

  • Community learning: Share your fire-starting stories with others. Your experiences can inspire and educate fellow beginners.
  • Feedback loop: Don’t hesitate to discuss what worked well for you or what challenges you faced. It’s all part of learning how to start a fire in a fire pit.

By adhering to this guide, you’re well on your way to becoming adept at lighting up a warm blaze for any occasion.

Whether it’s for cooking, warmth, or simply enjoying the flicker of flames under the stars, starting a fire in a pit can be deeply satisfying.

So gather around your newly mastered flame, bask in its glow, and enjoy every moment of your outdoor adventure.