I absolutely love an open flame fire pit… there is just something so primal and wonderful about sitting and watching the flames dance and crackle. I was recently at the new McMenamins in Bothell where they have five fire pits in an open courtyard that they light when the temperature gets 65 degrees or lower. Fabulous! Two other local spots that allow public fire pits are the Shilshole and Alki beaches. Contained backyard fire pits and fireplaces are becoming more and more popular and are given the okay by local authorities, as long as regulations and fire bans are observed. This, however, is where things can get a little sticky, as I find there is often confusion. So I decided to do a little research on the subject and this is what I found.
Recreational fires in our area are regulated by two different governmental entities: the Seattle Fire Department and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The Seattle Fire Department sets guidelines that are more or less standard across the country inside city limits. They define a recreational fire as “…fire using charcoal or firewood that occurs in designated areas or on private property for cooking, pleasure, ceremonial or similar purposes.” The fire cannot be more than three feet in diameter and two feet in height and must be 25 feet away from any structure or combustible material. Trash, yard waste, and paper products cannot be burned within city limits.
The Seattle Fire Department website further states that recreational fires are prohibited when a burn ban is in effect. Air quality burn bans (for both outdoor and indoor wood-burning fires) are regulated by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Created as a result of the 1967 Washington Clean Air Act, this agency serves King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. An air quality burn ban is a mandatory, but temporary, order that restricts the use of wood burning stoves, fireplaces and fire pits when air quality is degraded. Smoke from burning wood contains fine particles and a toxic mix of other carcinogens. Bans typically occur during fall and winter months when stagnant weather conditions often allow concentrations of wood smoke to reach harmful levels. Interestingly enough, more bans are typically called in Pierce and Snohomish counties in part because they tend to have more wood burning communities and also because it tends to be a bit windier in Seattle and parts of King County, which helps to blow away the pollution and keep it from reaching unhealthy levels.
To determine if an air quality burn ban is in effect in your area, call 1-800-595-4341 or visit the PSCAA website at www.pscleanair.org. Also, believe it or not, “there’s an app for that.” The Burn Ban 411 mobile app gives you real-time burn ban updates for your county. Again, visit the website to learn more and access the app. Happy fire-tending!