September has arrived and fall will soon be in full swing. Crisp, 40-degree nights with hot cocoa and s’mores are coming, and adding a fire pit in Denver sounds like the cherry on top of outdoor living in the backyard.
But with Colorado still in a state-wide drought and battling increasing wildfires like last New Year’s Marshall Fire in Louisville, Superior, and the surrounding Boulder County area, is a personal fire pit really worth the risk?
This article will take a look at the fire laws in Denver and the surrounding areas and weigh the potential risks and rewards that come with having an at-home fire pit.
What Are The Fire Pit Laws In Denver?
- Open burning of wood (or other materials other than propane, natural gas, or charcoal briquettes) is strictly prohibited in Denver without permits from the Denver Department of Environmental Health and the Fire Prevention and Investigation Division.
- Propane and natural gas fire pits are allowed with no requirement for a permit (with exceptions on balconies, where no fire pit of any kind is allowed).
The laws aim to reduce Denver’s “brown cloud” issue and focus on the city’s efforts to improve and maintain clean air standards. So as long as you don’t burn wood or any banned substance, a fire pit is acceptable as far as the city of Denver is concerned.
Compare those laws to the nearby city of Lakewood, which vary significantly below.
- Fire pits must be a minimum of 25 feet from structures (including fences, decks, sheds) or combustible material.
- Commercially purchased portable devices must be a minimum of 15 feet from structures or combustible material and used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Burn only firewood, with a fire pile no bigger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height.
- Anything bigger or involving other materials is a violation unless approved by a permit from West Metro Fire Rescue.
- Fires must be attended to at all times.
- Fires must be extinguished with a fire extinguisher, water, dirt, or other proper materials.
In densely populated parts of the state with several cities crammed together, it’s important to understand the updated fire codes in your area.
What Fire Risks Do Natural Gas And Propane Fireplaces Pose?
According to the National Parks Service, propane and natural gas fireplaces caused more than 3,200 residential fires, resulting in 77 deaths, 287 injuries, and more than $100 million in property damage between 2003 and 2007. The NPS website states that propane fires and emergencies are “extremely common” within the National Park System, despite a lack of wood burning that cities like Denver are aiming to avoid.
Perhaps that’s due to a number of irresponsible individuals that unfortunately caused a disaster while camping. Those disasters happen in wide open spaces where a lot of timber and wood and wind can lead to a catastrophe. But if it can happen in a national park, it can happen in your backyard. Some tips from the NPS website to take home with you to ensure the best propane fire safety practices are listed below.
- Be sure to carefully check all propane tank valves, gauges, connectors, and controls for damage, and always make sure the tank is off when putting the fire out for the night.
- Do not store cylinders inside enclosed structures or in areas where the cylinder would be exposed to excessive heat.
- Do not dispose of unused propane by opening the valve and venting into the atmosphere. Take the cylinder to your propane supplier for disposal.
How Often Do Home Fires Happen?
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, fire is the second leading cause of accidental death in the home, and the United States is one of the global leaders in fire deaths and injury rates.
- Over 4,000 people die each year in home fires
- Annually, there are 500,000 residential fires considered serious enough to report to fire departments
- More than 90 percent of residential fire deaths and injuries result from fires in one and two-family houses and apartments
- Property losses from fires exceed 4 billion dollars annually
How Does Colorado Compare To Other States In Fire Risk?
Colorado was ranked 18th in 2021 for number of acres burned in wildfires and other fires with 48,195 acres, according to Statista. Those are glowing numbers compared to the state’s historic, fire-filled 2020, where Colorado lost more than 500,000 acres in over 100 days of fire burning. Below is a breakdown of the 2020 wildfires that led to that daunting number.
- Cameron Peak – 208,913 acres burned
- East Troublesome – 193,812 acres burned
- Pine Gulch – 139,007 acres burned
2022 was a welcome year for wildfires and smoke, after a fiery 2020 and a smoke-ridden 2021 from wildfires from other states. In fact, the state saw more rain than fire this summer. But residents are still recovering from the Marshall Fire, which at the time seemed a daunting warning of a blistering summer to come.
However, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), Colorado is ranked third among all U.S. states in “high to extreme” wildfire risk. The study estimates the number of properties at risk and the percentage of properties in the state at risk. Colorado displays 373,900 estimated properties at risk in the state (17 percent of state properties), behind only California and Texas.
All three of Colorado’s historic wildfires in 2020 were believed to be caused by humans. And though Denver generally doesn’t have much wildfire risk, the Marshall Fire in Boulder County and the surrounding areas were a little too close for comfort and ruined the lives of several close neighbors.
Are Fire Pits In Colorado Still Worth It?
Yes, as long as you abide by local laws and guidelines. In cities where wood and other illegal substances are banned, use propane and natural gas fires. Check out Creative Living for fire pits that use propane or natural gas. Where wood is allowed, take all precautions necessary to adhere to local rules.
When in doubt, don’t start a fire at all. Always check your fuel containers for damage and other malfunctions, and ensure the fire is completely extinguished or turned off when finished.