How to Start a Fire In Your Backyard

By: Contributors  | 
A group of friends around a bonfire during winter.
Building a bonfire can be lots of fun but can also be catastrophic if done wrong. Heath Korvola / Getty Images

There's something so alluring about a warm fire, which is why starting one can be lots of fun for the whole family. You can tell ghost stories, sing campfire songs, and cook hot dogs and baked potatoes while sitting around a bonfire. If you're wondering how to start a fire in a controlled environment, you've come to the right place.

You may not own a log cabin, but you can bring that spark of warmth to any camping trip or get-together. In this article, we'll detail the step-by-step process of how to start a fire. Additionally, we'll share safety tips that can help you avoid a dangerous situation. Ready to get warm and toasty? Let's get started!


Tips for a Safe Fire Pit

If you're thinking you need to create friction between two smaller sticks and gently blow to achieve an open flame, you've been watching too much Castaway. Essentially, all you need to do is pile up some dry wood and tinder material in a safe place, and then light the wood with a match. But getting to that stage requires preparation and concentration.

First of all, it's important to choose the location of your fire carefully. You'll want to avoid any flammable materials, such as dry grass, dead trees, or overhanging branches, that could immediately ignite. The area should be sheltered from wind to prevent sparks from being blown around.


It's also advisable to have a clear perimeter around the fire pit, ideally of non-combustible material like large rocks, dirt, or stone. Before you light the fire, ensure that you have a reliable method to extinguish it, such as a bucket of water, sand, or a fire extinguisher nearby.

Light Your Fire Responsibly

You may be tempted to use flammable liquids like gasoline or alcohol when starting a fire. However, doing so can result in rapid and uncontrollable flames. It's far safer to stick with designated fire starters or small kindling.

Once the fire is lit, never leave it unattended. That's how wildfires happen! Always supervise children and pets around the fire to prevent accidents. Keep the fire at a manageable size and avoid adding excessive amounts of wood, as large fires can quickly become uncontrollable.


When it's time to extinguish the fire, do so completely, ensuring that the embers are cold to the touch to prevent any risk of re-ignition. Remember, safety is paramount when dealing with open flames.

Make Sure You Know Your Local Rules

Before building a backyard bonfire you should:

  • Find out if you need a permit to build a bonfire, and get one if necessary.
  • Find out if bonfires are legal in your area, and if so, during what times of year.
  • Contact your local fire department to find out whether there are any requirements for the building of outdoor fires and whether they have any specific fire safety instructions for your area's landscaping [source: Ohio].


Checklist: Stones, Wood, and Pre Made Tinder

Some preparation is necessary before you light your match. Here's what you'll need for your bonfire:

  • Bricks and/or stones
  • A tinder pile (dry sticks, pine needles, bark, newspaper, etc)
  • Kindling (bigger sticks)
  • Fuel (larger logs)

Use hardwood that has been dried or cured. Green, uncured wood produces more smoke, smaller flames and less heat. Don't bring just any burnable materials, as they could release toxic emissions or cause wild flames.


How to Start a Fire: Step-by-Step

There are many ways to start a fire, with methods utilizing everything from a steel striker to a magnifying glass. Some people rely on the steel wool method or use dryer lint and cotton balls to ignite their fires. However, we find that the natural ways are often the safest and most reliable.

Here's how to build the bonfire:


  1. Make a circle with bricks or stones. If you want a permanent bonfire pit in your yard, you can dig a hole and then surround it with bricks or stones [source: The Sunday Times]. This is called a fire ring.
  2. Stand the dry tinder in a teepee shape in the center of the circle.
  3. Make a teepee out of kindling around the tinder, leaving some gaps for oxygen to escape.
  4. Put some larger logs parallel to each other on two sides of the teepee.
  5. Repeat this process up to five times, building the teepee in higher and higher layers [Source: The Telegraph].

Once the bonfire is set up, drop a match into the center of the teepee (or stick it into one of the gaps) to start the fire. Make sure the match gets all the way into the tinder layer of the teepee. Be sure to have a supply of water on hand, just in case. Extinguish the fire completely, before going inside for the night.


Become a Natural Fire Starter

There's an art to making a small fire. You want enough heat for a crackling ambiance, but too much fuel can make it burn hot and uncomfortable.

By avoiding hazards like dry grass and poor weather conditions, you can be the hero of your outdoor entourage with these fire-building skills!


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Bonfire Pit FAQs

What do you need to start a bonfire in your backyard?
Before building a backyard bonfire you should find out if you need a permit to build a bonfire and get one if necessary. You’ll also need to know if bonfires are legal in your area, and when. It’s also a good idea to contact your local fire department. If all that checks out, then you can assemble your gear for a bonfire: bricks or stones, fuel, a match or lighter, and tinder material (small sticks, paper, bark, etc.).
Can I make a bonfire in my backyard?
Some areas require getting a permit before you can legally start one. In addition, some states prohibit bonfires at different times of the year. Even if the law permits starting a fire, you'll want a fire extinguisher on hand.
How do you make a bonfire?
To make a bonfire, you essentially need fuel (logs), some bricks or stones, and matches or a lighter. Start by placing the bricks or stones in a circle. Stand the tinder in a teepee shape so they can burn evenly. Then place the fuel logs next to the teepee and light it up. You should get a fire burning almost immediately.
What is the best wood for burning in a fire pit?
The best wood for a fire pit is dried and cured hardwood because it produces less smoke and more heat. Needless to say, wet wood doesn't lead to a roaring fire!