What's hot for the backyard this summer?

Fire pits and fire tables, said Travis Stark, manager of the Capital Patio/The Flame Shop.

"In the last three to four years, it's gotten to be more and more of our business," he said. "Everyone sees it and then they want one in their backyard."

Weeks before Memorial Day weekend, Stark already has had to reorder his supply of gas and wood-burning fire pits.

In an average week, Lincoln Chief of Fire Prevention Bill Moody fields two or three calls from people interested in putting in a fire pit or fire table who want to know the laws.

Fire pits are legal in Lincoln, Moody said.

Depending on the type of pit - wood or liquid burning - the rules vary.

When the fire pit trend took off three years ago, Moody worried they would spark a rash of unintended grass and structure fires.

His fears have not come true.

"I cannot recall a fire yet," he said.

"People are doing a pretty good job of watching them. You just have to be careful, whether the fire is inside or outside."

As the backyard fireplace/fire pit trend grows, so do the options for consumers.

Today, there are pits and fireplaces for every budget and every outdoor space, from commercially manufactured portable stands and tables to permanent landscape stone patios, pricey propane or gas structures with decorative glass or river rock and do-it-yourself jobs created out of brick and stone.

Increasingly, fireplaces and fire pits combine comfort with aesthetics, according to the Home Patio and Barbecue Association.

"This year manufacturers are showcasing fireplaces with swirling flames, ironwood-sculpted faux wood logs for gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces where flames dance to music and outdoor fire pits that double as water features," the HPBA said in a press release.

And more manufacturers are switching from the log look of fires to colorful glass and river rock beds, Stark said.

Depending on your budget and style, fire pits range in price from about $80 to thousands of dollars.

Gas and propane pits generally cost more than wood burning pits, but they also offer convenience, cleanliness, style and fewer fire code regulations.

Whereas a wood burning fire pit falls under size and location regulations for "recreational fires," the gas fire-pits and tables are considered decorative and have far fewer rules.

Because "gas burns clean like the grill" they do not pose the same danger as wood burning pits, Moody said. Which means gas and propane pits can be placed virtually anywhere outdoors - including on wooden deck.

Scott Haynes, owner of Dreamscapes Inc. in Lincoln, custom builds a handful of fire pits every year. Typically, they are part of a larger patio or retaining wall hardscape projects.

The fire pit is just one more way people are extending indoor amenities to the outdoors.

"Its a nice way to gather around and bring people together. You can add a little warmth on a cool night," Haynes said.

As fire pits become more popular, the options for furniture and accessories continue to increase.

He has seen a rise in demand for free standing retaining walls that serve as a bench by the fire. Other people incorporate their fire pits and fire places into outdoor kitchens, complete with ceiling fans, misters and lights.

In the past, fire-pits were either in the ground or just a few inches above ground. Today, people can opt for a 24-inch tall "chat" height table and pit, or even dining table and bar height pits and tables.

When it comes to deciding between wood burning and gas, people tend to have a definite idea of what they want, Haynes said.

Whereas some like the smell of a campfire and the rugged joys of roasting marshmallows and hot dogs over the open flame, others prefer the ease of gas pits.

"There is not as much cleanup involved," Haynes said of gas. "You don't have to find firewood, store it or buy it. ... You can enhance it with different kinds of materials in their fire pit like artificial logs and glass."

On the flip side, wood-burning pits are cheap and easy to make. Simply dig a hole, line it with fire block or a fire ring, then decorate around it with your choice of brick or stone. Haynes recommends do-it-yourselfers spend a little extra to line the pit, which will protect the decorative brick/stone and mortar from the heat.

Both Haynes and Stark have wood-burning fire pits in their yards. They say it has been a great addition to their outdoor living spaces and family time with the kids.

"It definitely jump-starts the spring and makes summer last that much longer into fall," Stark said.

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

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