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Recreational Fires: The real story about outdoor fireplaces

May 6, 2011
For a family who likes spending quality time with their friends or relatives outside on their patio, during the summertime enjoying backyard barbecues and pool parties, or in wintertime for that campfire gathering, having an outdoor patio fireplace can be the most ideal choice for any activity outdoors. But as appealing as outdoor fireplaces are, there are many risks that go along with them especially if they're installed to close to a combustible surface. The Village of Palatine requires recreational fires to be a minimum of 25 feet from a structure or combustible surface, unless approved prefabricated or site built fireplaces are used. In this case the 25 foot distance requirement would be reduced to 15 feet. A site built fireplace would require a building permit.
As enjoyable as your outdoor fireplace may be to your family, your neighbors may not share that same enthusiasm. Before lighting that campfire check the weather conditions to determine if the wind will blow the smoke into their windows or backyard. Did you know your neighbor suffers from asthma or has chronic breathing problems; did you check?  The smoke from your fire is hazardous to them, so be kind and think before you burn. In Palatine outdoor fireplace complaints fall within the nuisance law category which includes; loud noises, abandoned vehicles in the driveways, or boat and RV storage. Residents that are affected by the smoke from a neighbor’s outdoor fireplace are directed to dial 9-1-1 to report the problem, and the Fire Department will respond with a single engine crew. The owner of the fireplace will be required to extinguish the fire and not burn again until weather conditions improve. Be attentive; don’t be careless about what is going on with the fire when you are enjoying yourself. Fire is somewhat like a living being, in that sometimes         it seems to have intellect, and this intellect can work against you if you pay no attention to it. A dangerous situation can happen any time; your fireplace can be turned over by pets, a strong blow of wind can cause sparks flying around, and a change of wind direction and other suddenness can make the fire grow uncontrollable. Study the wind conditions; is there a strong breeze or gusting winds, which could mean that conditions may get worse.
Fire Marshal Jim Eriksen says, “No one can control suddenness, but you can be prepared to handle it”. He and the Palatine Fire Department ask that you follow some simple safety guidelines: 
Safety Tips When Using an Outdoor Fireplace
  • Don't start your outdoor fireplace when it's windy: As tempting as it may be to burn a fire every time it gets chilly outside, avoid doing so if it's also windy. The wind can carry sparks and set fire to your property, house, or your neighbor’s house. If the wind will carry the smoke into your neighbors home or yard, don’t use the fireplace.
  • Limit the size of the fire. The Village of Palatine codes require fireplaces to be no more then 36 inches square or round, by 24 inches high, and must have a screened cover.
  • Never leave a fire burning unattended, even if it is screened. Embers can still escape and start a fire outside the fireplace. When the party is over make sure the fire is completely cooled.
  • Use a fire pad under your portable fireplace if you don't have a stone, brick or concrete slab foundation to set it on.
  • Keep at least 2 buckets of water, a garden hose, or a fire extinguisher near the fireplace in case of emergency.
  • Never set any fireplace on a wooden or composite deck.
  • Don't overstock the firebox. Add fuel only as needed. Don't cram in logs and fuel.
  • Make sure your fireplace is stable and level.
  • Keep extra fuel stacked and stored at least 20 feet away from your fireplace.
  • Once a firebox begins to show signs of heavy rust it is no longer safe to use. Replace the firebox or the entire fireplace if you must.
  • Burn only clean sawn wood. Don't burn trash, construction boards, or plastics.
  • Never burn pressure-treated lumber in fireplaces of any kind as such lumber releases toxic gases.
  • Locate your fireplace away from overhanging limbs, leaves and electrical wiring.


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