Pits Against Nature
Fire pits allow entertaining outdoors no matter the weather.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Paulette Phlipot
(page 3 of 3)
Some come with griddles that cover all or part of the fire pit for cooking pancakes, French toast and eggs.
Others have kettle hooks suitable for hanging pots of chili or stew, hot cider or cocoa. Still others have barbecue grills that can be removed when the cooking’s done to allow diners the after-dinner ambience of a fire.
“What’s happening is that people want to use the outdoors as another kitchen, essentially turning the outdoors into a whole new room during summer,” says Kathy Roth, co-owner of Warming Trend of Idaho.
The California Fire Pit, which makes lockdown fire pits for all of Idaho’s Forest Service campsites, makes a 30-inch-diameter Super Grill, which allows the grill to be raised and lowered throughout the barbecuing process.
The grill is particularly popular among Californians and Texans who barbecue big slabs of ribs and other big hunks of meat, says Pittman.
The California Fire Pit also offers a welded foot-rail so people can put their feet up by the fire without burning their tennis shoes.
“We were one of the first in the business—we’ve been making ours since 1969. But the popularity of fire pits really took off about 10 years ago,” Pittman says. “Last time I counted, there were more than 580 manufacturers.
“A lot of people don’t have time to go camping. But they build a fire in their fire pit—or simply turn the fire on—and it brings their family outside, away from the TV, giving them some quality time together.”
Check with your local fire department before installing or buying a fire pit.
Sun Valley, for instance, does not allow fire pits dug in the ground—it doesn’t allow open burning for fear of sparks getting into the shrubs.
The city allows outdoor fireplaces in some cases, but these must be approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Portable fire pits are allowed only if they use natural gas logs.
Hailey requires a 25-foot clearance from the property line, buildings and combustible materials, including shrubs. Portable fire pits should have a 3-inch clearance off the ground and a screen over the top to keep embers from igniting something.
Those in a pit need to be lined with rocks. Ketchum requires fire pits to be 3 feet in diameter or less. The fire department requires a clear space around the fire pit of at least 10 feet. No burning trash or grass in a fire pit, either—the smoke coming off the trash smells bad. And burnt paper can float away, starting a spot fire.
It’s also a good idea to tell your neighbors you’re installing a fire pit to avoid a rash of calls to the fire department when you start it up, Ketchum Fire Capt. Acona says. And it’s best to avoid using the fire pit starting about the second week of August as flammable materials begin to dry out.
“Neighbors tend to panic once it gets dry outside,” he says.
Of course, some people never actually use their fire pit for an actual fire, says Pittman. “They just like the look of it sitting in their backyard.”
Karen Bossick was introduced to the value of a good portable fire pit when someone brought one to her neighbor’s carnitas party. It quickly became the most popular item at the party next to the margaritas.