Backyard firepits

On cool evenings, a backyard firepit is the perfect gathering spot for family and friends

Campfires at home

A gas-fueled flagstone firepit warms Juan and Ann Castro in San Mateo CA. Design: PolyScapes Landscape Construction & Design (650/548-0145)

Thomas J. Story

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Spending an evening by a crackling fire under a starry sky is one of the pleasures of summer in the West, especially when warm days dissolve into chilly nights. But you don't have to travel hundreds of miles to a favorite camping spot to huddle around a flickering fire ― you can bring a firepit into your own backyard.

There are lots of choices, from built-in firepits edged with stone and fueled by gas to simple, portable copper or steel types just big enough for a couple of logs. Here's what to look for.

An aboveground firepit, surrounded by low (18-24-in.-tall) walls made of stone, rock, concrete, or other nonflammable building material, is certainly the most expensive option. But it is a permanent garden element, handsome and useful whether or not there is a fire going. When topped by a wide ledge, such walls provide seating ― perfect perches for roasting marshmallows. The surrounding walls also offer an extra element of safety for wood-fueled fires, which can send up sparks. Large metal or concrete containers can also be converted into permanent firepits fueled by logs or gas. 

 

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