Bonfires can be a great centerpiece to a gathering of friends or family—the beautiful, starry night sky overhead, s'mores being made for one and all, stories being passed around, laughter filling the night air—maybe even a few adult beverages to go along with the constellation of people.
While this scenario may paint the perfect picture of many people's ideal night, this could also be a situation prone to disaster. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, "41 percent of fires in the United States are outdoor fires."
The proper precautions should be taken before, during and after the fire.
First, always make sure the fire is built in a safe place. It must be inside a fire pit to contain the flames, so make certain that the location is not endangering anything—no trees should be directly above the fire.
When building the fire, use unpainted, fresh wood so as to not be burning any chemicals.
Use lighter fluid to keep the fire burning if you must. DO NOT use gasoline. Gasoline is so highly flammable that when pouring it on the fire, the flames could travel up the stream of gas and light the container on fire.
According to New York State law, the fire cannot be more than three feet wide and four feet high. Specifics vary from state to state but most are similar to this.
Always keep a safe distance away from the flames so as not to be hit by a spark while the fire is burning.
Once your gathering is over, properly extinguish the fire by pouring lots of water over it until it is out. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you should mix the embers in with the soil where the fire once was. After, always make sure the ground is cool. The USDA says "if it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave." Finally, add more water for safe measure and walk around the campsite to make sure there are no stray embers.
Bonfires are always a good time with friends or family—the snacks are delicious and the memories are priceless. Let the good times roll by keeping safety first.