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Originally published Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Warming up to backyard fire pits

Fire pits, one of the hottest trends in outdoor-living design features, come in a wide range of styles and prices. Here's a primer on fire pits plus some safety tips.

The Orlando Sentinel

Using fire pits wisely

• Use portable fire pit outdoors only.

• Locate away from overhanging roofs and trees.

• Never place directly on wood deck.

• Never leave fire unattended.

• Have container of water or hose handy.

• Use natural products such as Fatwood sticks to start the fire, not chemicals such as lighter fluid, kerosene or gasoline.

• Avoid using pressure-treated wood, which may contain toxins. Hickory and oak produce the least amount of smoke.

• Use a spark guard.

• Use safety gloves and tongs when removing spark guard or adding logs.

• Avoid using in high winds, which may scatter embers.

• To extinguish, allow wood fire to burn itself out. Do not use water as extreme temperature changes can damage fire pits.

Fire pits are the hottest trend in outdoor-living design features, according to a recent poll by the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Fire pits create an inviting focal point for convivial gatherings. As ornamental features, they lend warm ambience to the landscape. And they are relatively affordable, said Stephen Gidus of PSG Construction in Orlando, Fla. Free-standing models start at about $60; built-ins at about $2,000.

"On chilly nights, it's great to sit around a fire pit with a glass of wine. Or for kids to roast hot dogs or marshmallows," said Gidus.

One reason for the popularity of fire pits and outdoor fireplaces is "this whole 'staycation' concept — the idea of staying home on vacation and upgrading your outdoor living space," said Abby Buford, a spokeswoman for Lowe's stores, where demand for fire pits is on the rise.

Also, "Designs have evolved with more styles and improved finishes. Some even coordinate with patio-furniture sets," said Buford.

Portable fire pits usually consist of a round or square bowl in a frame with legs. Fashioned from materials such as steel, copper, bronze, clay, granite or enamel, they burn wood, charcoal, gel fuel or natural gas.

In-ground models are usually more elaborate and expensive, especially if they come with underground gas pipes and features such as remote-controlled starters. Simpler wood-burning designs tend to be less costly.

The pit is constructed of non-combustible materials such as brick, stone or concrete. It usually is incorporated into the design of a courtyard, patio or pool area, and designs vary greatly.

"Like all things in the home, everyone has their own taste," says Gidus.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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