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With summer on its way out, there are still a few days left to enjoy some outdoor fun with friends. With cooler temperatures settling in, outdoor campfires can seem like a great way to socialize comfortably. However, while we sit basking around the peaceful glow of the fire, it’s easy to forget how the flames’ inhalants can cause harmful reactions. Here are some ways to avoid these unpleasant reactions and make those nights around the campfire memorable for the right reasons!
It’s hard to determine exactly how harmful fire pits can be to air quality, but no one can question the fact that breathing in wood smoke can be irritating if not downright harmful. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that the small fine particles are the most dangerous components of wood smoke and warn that they “can get into your eyes and respiratory system and cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis”. The EPA also warns that these particles can be especially harmful in anyone with respiratory or heart related illnesses.
Those with asthma might be especially susceptible to smoke that is emitted by a campfire, especially when combined with pollen in the wood being burned such as mesquite. Those who are sensitive to smoke, but still want to partake in the festivities, might want to sit upwind of the smoke. Also, it is probably best to visit a doctor before partaking in campfire activities that might lead to an attack. This way all medications are up to date and effective in handling potentially harmful situations.
Children’s exposure to campfires should also be limited. Scientific American.com warns that children’s respiratory systems are still developing and they breathe more air (and hence air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults.
Topography and geography also play a role in how harmful wood smoke can be. People living in deep steep-walled valleys should be careful not to light backyard fires during smog alerts or other times when air quality is already poor. Lingering smoke can be an issue, even in wide open areas, especially in winter when temperature inversion limits air flow.
However, if you are going to take advantage of the last days of summer and light that fire pit, here are some precautions you can take to make sure your wood burning produces a minimally harmful result:
- Use seasoned firewood, at least 6 months old.
- Wood should have a moisture content of less than 20%. You can test your wood with a moisture meter which is available for purchase online.
- Using the right tree for your fires is also an important factor. Trees that are softest will burn for a shorter amount of time, a preferred method to long smoldering ones which will result in more harmful inhalants.
- Store wood off the ground with the top of the stack covered. This will protect the wood from moisture and allow the air to circulate and promote drying.
- Split wood properly. The EPA recommends chopping wood into wedges of no more than 6” to promote faster burning.
- Always start fires with newspapers or dry kindling to burn smaller fires and store ashes outside in a metal container after the fire is extinguished.
- Don’t add certain hazardous materials like pizza boxes, colored newspaper and painted wood to your fire.
In short, if you’re going to burn-burn responsibly!