Image source: Matthew Trump via Wikimedia commons.
The fire pit still competes well with other types of nightly entertainment. The fire pit has outlasted the court jester, radio theatre, and will probably still be here after broadcast TV and Netflix are history. For thousands of years, people have enjoyed getting lost in those flames under the stars.
Happily, in Duluth we are allowed to have fire pits in our backyards. Now fire pits are legal, but not anything goes. You can't burn a 40 foot cardboard model of the Hindenburg, even on the anniversary. At Mission Creek, we do fire restoration, but we'd rather you don't need that service.
Since many people will be lighting fires now and through the fall, let's look at Duluth's regulations on fire pits. The first rule about fire pits is the fire has to be in a pit.
"You can have a campfire, recreational fire, in the city of Duluth without any kind of permit," said Duluth Fire Marshall Marnie Grondahl. But, it has to be a 3 foot by 3 foot fire and it has to be more than 25 feet from a structure."
Remember that "structure" also includes decks and fences. Unfortunately this "25 foot" rule means fires can't be done in many smaller yards in Duluth. Maybe make friends with your neighbor with the huge yard. Maybe you can build him a pit.
As far as how to build the pit Grondahl says that old stone fire pits work fine. You can use one of Duluth's great natural resources, rocks, or use landscaping blocks. You can also use fire rings or, as Grondahl suggests, elevated trays you can get from Menards that are made of metal. The idea is to just clear grass away and create a ring no more than 3 feet wide. Now that you have a fire pit, what can you burn?
"You can't burn garbage or treated lumber, just clean dry wood," Grondahl said.
You also can't burn leaves, newspapers, or even cardboard. All that smoke and flying cinders from those materials is sure to have your neighbor make a phone call and some folks with hats and boots will come to join your backyard fire.
Grondahl mentions that sometimes neighbors will call the fire department if there is excessive smoke. They might be annoyed even if you are following all the rules, especially if the wind is blowing smoke into their house. This is where it is good for you to know your neighbor.
"A nice thing to do is tell them you are going to have a fire," said Grondahl. "So, they might want to shut the windows on that side of the house. That would be the nice thing to do."
While we're here, I might as well mention one place fires are definitely not allowed—Park Point Beach. In fact, it is illegal to have on fires in any of Duluth's parks, which at least the major beaches are considered. An apparent exception to the park rule is the stone shelter with a fire pit on Brighton Beach.
There also used to be a fire pit in Enger Park. A couple of years back, I showed up and was shocked and sad to see they destroyed the fire pit in the pavilion at Enger Park to make the bathroom bigger. I had many fires there on a crisp fall day.
The good news is beach fires are still allowed on Duluth's twin sand spit—Wisconsin Point. I say that with fingers crossed, hoping someone won't read this and plug this recreational loophole. Banning fires on a beach almost seems like banning watching sunrises on a beach. Oh, wait. Actually, going by the times you are allowed to park at Park Point, sunrises are kind of illegal, during part of the year.
Thanks, for listening to that little rant. Now, here's a nice map showing where beach fires are allowed and where it is a no-no.
Beach Fires are ok in on Wisconsin Beach but not Park Point.
Image source: Openstreetmap.org with image by Dirk Beyer superimposed.
But, in my opinion the backyard fire rules are reasonable and promote safe fun. Backyard fires appear to have not caused that much trouble, in Duluth.
Grondahl says that they haven't had that many incidents of recreational fires getting out of control throughout the years. In fact, the last incident she can remember is a couple of years back when a fire spread to some grass, which was put out before it damaged any structures. Still, fires call for some caution.
"The fire has to be constantly attended and you have to have a way of putting it out, like a hose or bucket of sand," said Grondahl.
Grondahl says most of the calls they get for recreational fires are for: leaving the fire unattended, having a really big fire, and burning something that creates a lot of smoke fumes. One of the most common problems is when people burn old furniture.
If you follow these few rules, you can enjoy a fire in your backyard in Duluth. This is nice to know, since many cities don't allow recreational fires at all. It's especially nice to light a fire in the fall or if you live in the "colder by the lake" zone.
In Duluth, you can enjoy this ancient pastime, that still competes well with Angry Birds or even Pokémon Go.