Recreational Fires and Outdoor Cooking

Spending time outdoors is what living in Colorado is all about. During the spring and summer months, North Metro Fire receives numerous questions about what is allowed in regards to backyard fires and grills. Due to the varying weather conditions and air quality in our area, restrictions can change on a daily basis. However, here are some general definitions and guidelines to follow.

Recreational Fires

A recreational fire is a small outdoor fire that does not exceed 3 feet in width or 2 feet in height. Residents can typically enjoy recreational fires in their yard throughout the year, unless the community is under fire restrictions or a fire ban. Residents of apartment complexes, condominiums or hotels are more restricted in activities involving fire or an open flame, which we will explain below. 

On days with very high fire danger, North Metro Fire may implement Level 1 Fire Restrictions or a Level 2 Fire Ban out of precaution, which could impact your ability to have a fire or grill outdoors. Note: A “Red Flag Warning” issued by the National Weather Service automatically triggers a complete fire ban in the affected areas.

When Do I Need a Permit?bonfire

The International Fire Code (IFC) defines open burning as the burning of materials wherein products of combustion are emitted directly into air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber. 

Open burning that requires a burn permit includes: 

  • Bonfires
  • Agricultural burning
  • Fires larger than 3-feet wide and 2-feet high

Outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, BBQ grills and chimineas used for recreational burning do not require a burn permit. 

Burning Trash Is Illegal 

Burning trash is strictly illegal. Burning trash or rubbish is illegal, whether it is a recreational fire, permit-allowed open burning, or a farmer doing agricultural burning. Backyard recreational fires may only burn sticks, branches, or firewood. Sawn lumber (2x4’s, etc.), plastic, furniture, chemicals, tires, furniture, appliances, etc. are not allowed to be burned.

Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits 

Below you’ll see some types of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, commonly enjoyed in one’s backyard space. Remember, recreational fires should not exceed 3 feet across or 2 feet in height, and burning trash or rubbish is never allowed.  propane fire pit

Natural Gas or Propane Fire Pits
These are contained fire pits fueled by natural gas or propane. If you are planning a natural gas-fired custom installation pit, then you need a permit from your local building official because of the installation of natural gas pipe. You do not need a permit for a portable fire pit fueled by a propane tank.

Portable Outdoor Fireplaces 
outdoor fire pitThese are the bowl- or pan-shaped, wood-burning fire pits with a screen cover that you can buy at a store. The International Fire Code (IFC) has no restrictions for these EXCEPT that you use them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, which may include a separation distance from combustibles (e.g., the house). As a rule of thumb, North Metro Fire recommends placing portable outdoor fireplaces at least 10 feet away from combustible materials. When there is a fire or smoldering embers, there must always be someone watching.

Campfire-Style Fire Pits (Recreational Fires)  outdoor fire pit in ground
If you are planning a permanent campfire-style, wood-burning fire ring using rocks or bricks or something similar, then that is a recreational fire defined by the IFC. The pile of wood for a recreational fire shall be no more than 3-ft long by 3-ft wide by 2-ft tall. A recreational fire must be at least 25 feet away from any combustibles, i.e., your house, the neighbor’s house, bushes, trees, fencing, deck railings, etc. Even if you put a grate over your open fire pit, you should still follow guidelines from the fire department in regards to recreational fires. 

REMEMBER: It is illegal to leave any open fire unattended. You should always monitor your fire and have someone present who is capable of extinguishing the fire properly.

Outdoor Cooking

The regulations on if or how you can use a barbecue grill, whether charcoal or propane, depends on your type of residence. Please follow this chart below for regulations on outdoor grills. If you witness someone violating these regulations, please call North Metro Fire’s Fire Prevention Division 720-887-8217.

Additionally, we encourage you to follow these grilling safety tips by the National Fire Protection Association to avoid injury or accidental fires while grilling. 

International Fire Code (When No Fire Restrictions or Bans Are Activated)

Natural Gas and Propane Grills
Charcoal Grills and Other Solid-Fueled Cooking Appliances
Single-family homes, duplexes and townhousesAllowedAllowed
Condos, apartments, hotels and motelsAllowed only if: 
A) Located 10 feet or more from structure; or,
B) The buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system; or, 
D) Appliance is a listed natural gas appliance installed in accordance with the International Fuel Gas Code and supplied by the building’s natural gas system; or
C) Appliance uses a 1-lb. LP-gas cylinder
Allowed only if:
A) Located 10 feet or more from structure; or,
B) The buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system

Tree and Yard Waste Recycling Programs

Homeowners and landowners, regardless of the size of their plot of land, who have cleared brush, trimmed trees and bushes, etc. for the purpose of maintaining their land, sometimes wish to dispose of the yard waste by burning. While this is possible, the fire district always recommends other methods of disposal, such as city or county tree-recycling programs listed below.

Enjoy Your Outdoor Fire (And Be a Good Neighbor) By Following These Safety Tips

No matter what you are planning, we encourage you to follow these safety tips to prevent accidental fires and to avoid disturbing your neighbors.  

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for a store-bought device.
  • Keep the fire pit or fireplace as far away from combustible materials as possible, e.g., the house, landscaping, fencing, deck railings, trees, bushes, etc. 
  • Use stone, rocks, tiles, etc. in the area of the fire pit or fireplace, and continue a defensive ring of those same materials around the fire area.
  • Keep the area clean of debris.
  • Monitor your fire. It is illegal to leave any open fire unattended. You should also always have someone present who is capable of extinguishing the fire.
  • Have a hose and nozzle connected and the water supply turned on when burning.
  • Follow local burn restrictions and/or bans when enacted.
  • Be a good neighbor! Be aware of where the smoke is going so not to disturb your neighbors. We often get calls for backyard fires that create a lot of smoke, hindering nearby residents from enjoying their own outdoor space. While we will always respond to investigate and ensure there is no imminent danger, it does tie up first responder resources for a situation that could be prevented. 
  • Do not burn trash or rubbish, including lumber, which releases toxic fumes into the air that are harmful to your health and that of your neighbors.
  • “I’ve got insurance for that!” Maybe not. You will be liable if your fire burns your neighbor’s property, legally and possibly criminally, and your insurance policy may not cover the loss if it is considered the result of an illegal act.  This is especially the case for illegal fireworks (e.g., anything that leaves the ground or explodes).