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Hacking SF: How to (Legally) Start a Fire

Where in the city can you indulge your pyromaniacal instincts?

In cool summer months, you may have wondered if a backyard fire pit is legal, or if you can really build a bonfire on Ocean Beach. How about fireworks? In SF, getting the fire going is the easy part (newspapers plus lighter fluid), but neighbors and fire regulations can be strict. Things might only get stricter, as the New York Times reports on efforts to ban California fire pits due to pollution concerns. So how exactly can you get away with burning stuff within city limits?

At the Beach: Designated areas of Muir Beach and Ocean Beach are fire approved. Years ago, after talk of banning beach fires, organizations like Burners Without Borders and the Surfrider Foundation banded together with local artists to build trippy fire pits like “The Wave” in sea-green glass. Information is available here. Be nice: Burn in the fire pits, please! There are also “spare the air” no-burning days to be wary of.

In the Parks: Mindy Talmadge, Public Information Officer at the San Francisco Fire Department, tells us that “permits are available for what are termed recreational fires,” sort of a funny term that might describe the kind of fire you want to have in, say, Golden Gate Park. Those are only allowed in the Kirby Cove Campground & Picnic area. “In parks the Department of Recreation is very familiar with our permitting process. If you want a recreational fire, which doesn’t include the barbecue areas, they would direct you to the Bureau of Fire Prevention for that permit.” That’s available here, along with permits for gas stoves in the park. You canreserve a Golden Gate park barbecue and/or picnic area here. You must bring your own firewood (not scavenge it) for your campfire at Kirby Cove, and Smoky the Bear says to extinguish your blaze completely before you leave. In other parks, fires and grills are mostly illegal, but so is everything taking place in Dolores Park. People seem to get away with it.

In Your Backyard: Surprisingly, fire pits are legal. For best practices, “there are propane fire pits that are actually pretty safe,” Talmadge says. You can find some here. “One good thing about those is you can turn them off and walk away." So what about the old fashioned kind? Solid fuel firepits, which burn wood or coal, are similar to the propane ones: “They must be in a contained area, but you can’t burn garbage or leaves or anything.” Chimineas (a fancy term for fire pits with smoke stacks attached) are a good option for controlling smoke and appeasing your neighbors. Be safe and keep your pit away from trees that could join the fire, not to mention well away from the house and neighboring structures.

In the Street: Not allowed. “Out in the country you’ve seen burn days where people torch their trash and old leaves and branches, but that’s not legal in San Francisco,” says Talmadge. Those sound like a disaster, anyway.

In the Air: Sorry folks: Fireworks aren't allowed in S.F. Here are some cool (read: lame) alternatives.

In Your Apartment Building Hallway: Um, probably not, but check with your landlord. (We don't have a link to your lease agreement.) Here's general SF fire code law along with CA state code.

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