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How to Start a Perfect Fire in Your Fire Pit: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Start a Perfect Fire in Your Fire Pit: Step-by-Step Guide

Sitting around a warm, crackling fire in an outdoor fire pit is one of life's simple pleasures. Whether you want to roast marshmallows, cook food, or just enjoy the ambiance, learning how to start a proper fire in your fire pit is essential.

But starting and maintaining a good fire requires some skill and knowledge to do it properly. With the right techniques and fuel materials, you can easily start a fire pit and keep the fire burning bright all evening long.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose a suitable, non-flammable location away from objects, buildings, and flammable materials. The fire pit area should be at least 10 feet from any structure.

  • Use only proper, permitted fuels like seasoned firewood - avoid flammable liquids like lighter fluid which can cause dangerous flare-ups.

  • Stack wood in a teepee or log cabin pattern with tinder at the center and kindling around it to allow airflow. Light tinder first before gradually adding kindling and logs.

  • Control the fire's air intake to regulate the burning rate. More air makes the fire burn faster and hotter. Close vents to lower the flames.

  • Extinguish the fire completely by dousing it with water and stirring ashes until no heat remains. Check for embers and smoke.

a collage of lighting options for fire pits

    Equipment Needed to Start a Fire in a Fire Pit

    Gather these supplies before attempting to start your backyard fire pit:


    Tinder catches flame quickly and is essential for igniting your fire. Good tinder options include dry grass, leaves, pine needles, shredded newspaper, napkins, or cotton balls. Keep tinder dry and fluffy.


    Kindling helps build the fire from a spark to a steady flame. Ideal kindling materials are small sticks, twigs, or wood shards the size of a pencil or smaller. Gather enough kindling to fill a small bucket.


    Dry, seasoned firewood sustains the fire. Opt for logs or sticks about the width of your arm or smaller. Hardwoods like oak, maple, or ash burn slowly and evenly.

    Ignition Source

    Have long matches, a lighter, or a long-reach butane fireplace lighter to ignite the tinder without getting too close to the fire.

    Gather these supplies before attempting to start your fire pit. When selecting a fire pit, consult our fire pit buying guide to choose the right model for your needs.

    Step-by-Step Instructions for Starting a Fire in a Fire Pit

    Follow this simple process for foolproof fire pit fire starting:

    1. Gather Tinder and Kindling

    Collect ample handfuls of dry, fluffy tinder as well as an armful of small kindling sticks before lighting anything. Keep these materials close at hand.

    2. Arrange Tinder and Kindling in a Teepee

    Place a large pinch of tinder in the center of the fire pit. Orient pieces of kindling vertically around the tinder in a teepee or tent shape. Allow air gaps between sticks.

    3. Add Logs Around the Teepee

    Arrange larger firewood logs horizontally around the teepee base, leaving small spaces between logs. Crisscross logs for added stability.

    4. Light the Tinder in Multiple Areas

    Ignite the tinder at the bottom of the teepee in several spots to promote even lighting. Use a long match or lighter so your hands stay at a safe distance.

    5. Gently Blow on the Fire

    Lightly blow on the ignited tinder or fan it gently to supply oxygen and strengthen the fire. The tinder and kindling should fully catch within 1-2 minutes.

    6. Gradually Add More Kindling

    Once the kindling is burning well, continue placing additional small, dry sticks onto the fire. Arrange them on top of each other in a teepee shape.

    7. Add Larger Logs When Ready

    Allow the fire to establish and burn through most of the kindling before adding logs. Place 1-2 logs at a time on top of the blazing kindling, being careful not to smother the flames.

    a log burning in a fire pit

    Maintaining the Fire

    Once the kindling has ignited and smaller logs have caught flame, you can sustain a bright fire by:

    • Carefully add larger pieces of hardwood logs to the fire as needed. Stack them on with air gaps for airflow.

    • Adjusting the air intake vents on the side of the fire pit. More air makes the fire burn hotter and faster. Close vents down to lower the flames.

    • Keeping excess fuel away from the immediate fire area. Only add more logs as others burn down. Don't overload the fire which can lead to dangerous flareups.

    Extinguishing the Fire

    Proper fire pit safety means completely extinguishing the fire before leaving it unattended. Follow these guidelines when you are ready to put out a fire:

    • Stop adding any more wood and let the existing logs burn down fully to embers. Don't smother the fire with water or dirt too early.

    • Once it has died down completely with no more open flames, douse the embers thoroughly with water. Stir the coals and ash with a shovel until no heat remains.

    • Check that no hidden embers are still smoldering. Look for smoke or steam coming from ashes for at least 30 minutes after you think the fire is out.

    • Carefully dispose of cooled ashes into a metal bucket. Store tools safely away from the fire pit area.

    Setting Up a Gas Fire Pit

    For convenience and ease of use, propane-fueled fire pits are an excellent option. Follow these tips when using gas fire pits:

    Checking Connections

    Inspect all the fittings and hoses to ensure they are undamaged and properly connected. Confirm that the gas valve is initially in the “off” position. Slowly turn on the gas supply from the propane tank. Check for any leaks by applying soapy water and looking for bubbles.

    Turning On Burner

    Locate the starter button for the electronic ignition. Push the igniter while turning the gas valve to a low position. You should hear the gas flowing and the burner should light within 5 seconds. If ignition fails, turn the valve off and wait 60 seconds before retrying.

    Adjusting Flame Height

    Gradually increase the gas valve to adjust the flame intensity higher, or lower it for a more subtle fire. Most gas fire pits allow you to customize the ambiance with flame heights ranging from a few inches up to two feet high.

    an image for a fire pit safety checklist

    Safety Tips for Building Fires in Fire Pits

    When using a fire pit, safety should always be your top concern. Be sure to check these things to prevent injuries or accidents when building a fire in your outdoor fire pit:

    Use a Designated Fire Pit Area

    Choose a safe spot away from low-hanging branches, structures, wooden decks, and flammable materials. Your fire pit area should be at least 10 feet from any building or brush. Select a location with good airflow that won't trap smoke.

    Keep Water Nearby

    Have a hose, bucket of water, or fire extinguisher within reach. Know how to operate the extinguisher properly in case you need to put out the fire in an emergency. Check the extinguisher expiration date regularly.

    Supervise Children and Pets

    Never leave kids or pets unattended near the fire pit. Educate them about fire safety and teach them to stay at least 3 feet away from the open flame. Remove any toys or debris nearby that could catch fire.

    Zone Distance from Fire Activities Allowed
    Hot 0-3 feet Adult supervision only
    Warm 3-6 feet Safe for kids
    Cool 6+ feet Safe for unattended kids/pets

    Avoid Flammable Materials Nearby

    Do not place the fire pit under trees or decks. Keep the surrounding area clear of dried leaves, grass, brush, and firewood that could ignite. Do not wear loose clothing that could catch sparks.

    an image of a round concrete fire pit

    Final Words

    When done properly, lighting a fire in your backyard fire pit is safe and enjoyable. Use recommended fuels, follow fire-starting techniques, and supervise the fire at all times. Locate the fire pit safely away from anything flammable. With good fire pit practices, you'll be able to relax around the comforting glow and warmth of the fire for many evenings to come.


    Is it safe to light a fire pit using lighter fluid?

    Using lighter fluid can achieve a fast start but it should be done carefully to avoid sudden flare-ups. Make sure to never add lighter fluid to an already ignited fire, as it could cause a fire explosion leading to serious injuries. It's also important to consider that some lighter fluids may impart a chemical taste if you're cooking in your fire pit.

    What should I do if the wood isn’t igniting in my fire pit?

    If your wood isn’t igniting, it may be due to the wood being damp or the weather being too windy. Make sure the wood is completely dry before trying to ignite it. You may also add additional kindling or a fire starter to help get the fire going.

    What type of wood is best to use in a wood fire pit?

    The type of wood you use in a wood-burning fire pit can have a significant impact on the quality of fire you get. Hardwoods like oak and hickory are ideal as they burn hot and slow. Avoid using softwoods or pressure-treated wood as they can damage your fire pit.

    Are there different steps to start a fire in different types of fire pits?

    Yes, starting a fire can vary depending on the type of fire pit you have. A pre-built fire bowl or a wood and natural gas fire pit kit may require different methods for igniting. However, the general process of starting a fire, which includes laying down kindling, adding fuel, and igniting, remains the same.

    How can I ensure my wood-burning fire pit lasts a long time?

    To ensure your fire pit's longevity, remember to clean out ashes regularly, avoid overloading it with wood, and protect it from the elements when not in use. Using a cover can help protect your fire pit from damage from rain or snow.

    Is starting a fire in a new fire pit different from an already used one?

    Starting a fire in a new fire pit isn't significantly different from lighting a fire in an already-used one. However, for a new fire pit, it’s vital to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. This is to understand its unique features and learn safety precautions specific to its use.

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    About The Author

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

    As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

    His main focus is on sheds and generators!

    In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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