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Recreational Fires and Air Quality

May 05, 2020 01:00 PM

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A fire burns in a fire pitResidential fire pits are popping up all over the Commonwealth. Sitting around the fire is no longer restricted to a night of camping in the woods. Why pack up the tent, chairs, food, and family and make that long drive to the woods when you can conveniently walk out your back door and strike up a fire? 

With the added number of PA residents recreating around their own firepits, it’s important to point out that these small fires can still produce big air pollution. Burning wood releases a surprisingly large number of compounds, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matters, benzene, and many other potentially toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Wood fires also release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.


To reduce the number of VOCs released into the air it is imperative to use seasoned or dry wood. Seasoned wood burns hotter and releases fewer pollutants into the air. A few simple tips for seasoning your wood prior to using include:

  • Plan ahead – Seasoning firewood takes time. Cut your wood early in the spring if you want to use it in the fall. Or even better, allow the wood to season one full year before use.
  • Split it – Splitting firewood allows the air to reach all sides of the wood, speeding up the amount of time needed to dry the wood.
  • Keep it off the ground - Keeping the wood elevated off the ground reduces the amount of moisture the wood soaks up from the earth and also decreases the amount of bugs and fungus on the wood. FirewoodBlog2.jpg
  • Stack it - Stacking the firewood in rows or in a criss-cross pattern allows the air to flow across the wood removing any unwanted moisture. A moisture content of less than 20% optimizes heating values while minimizing emissions.
  • Cover it - Using a tarp, firewood storage shed, or firewood cover will keep rain and snow off your firewood stack.
  • Consider a storage rack - A firewood storage rack can be purchased or made at home. The rack can be placed in a convenient location and allow the wood to season properly. Most racks are fairly inexpensive or can be built at home with a few simple tools.
  • Check your local laws - Some local governments have adopted ordinances to restrict backyard recreational fires. For more information, check with local authorities.

Whether you already have a fire pit or are planning to add one, follow the tips outlined above and you will be on your way to enjoying outdoor fires safely.  Your family, your friends, and your environment will thank you.

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