Q: We just built a new cabin and had a new septic tank and field put in. We have a small area to work with and were wondering if we could put a fire pit on the septic field. It would be toward the end of the field, not anywhere near the tank itself. — D. Williams, via e-mail
A: Rules and guidelines on the placement of fire pits vary from state to state. In Texas, for instance, one Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officer simply said that putting a fire pit on the septic field is “a personal choice,” while the Idaho Department of Fish and Game rules state that local health districts are in charge of giving the yea or nay.
Your best bet is to avoid the situation almost entirely by having an elevated fire pit that would keep heat out of direct contact with the drain field. A fire pit directly on the field increases the chances of melting the drain pipes underneath, but a fire pit that stands on legs would eliminate that and still allow you to make the most of your limited space.
That said, compaction is one other possible problem of which to be aware. Heavy traffic to and from the fire pit will cause the soil to become compacted, and compacted soil doesn’t drain well. Simple foot traffic shouldn’t pose a threat, but you won’t want people driving their ATVs and snowmobiles to the fire.
If, even with foot traffic, you notice a trail of worn down grass from walking to and from the fire pit, you will want to divert traffic and find a different route.
If you have further questions and/or want more advice, contact your state’s natural resources department or your county extension office.