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Watch for Hidden Hazards When Installing a Fire Pit

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Installing fire pits are a regular thing this time of year for Joel Northrup, co-owner of Marion-based Lawn-Tek Landscaping.

“We’ve had a lot of demand,” Northrup said. “We’re actually booked right now a couple months back, just in outdoor hardscapes like this,” he told us, pointing to a fire pit he installed a while back.

Northrup is trained to look for potential hazards when he builds fire pits, hazards that are sometimes overlooked during do-it-yourself installations. One of the most dangerous is building a pit too close to an underground natural gas line.

“We have had lines, power lines, gas lines underneath that we had to adjust the design or even take out the fire pit,” Northrup told us.

Justin Foss, spokesperson for Alliant Energy, said most modern-day gas lines are plastic.

“We’ve found that the plastic doesn’t corrode, it doesn’t rust, and it works better when the ground shifts, so it’s a lot safer,” Foss explained.

However, Foss said that also makes them more likely to melt if they’re too close to a heat source. Alliant recently put out a warning on its official Facebook page, showing an in-ground pit that was installed just inches above a line in Wisconsin.

“We try and bury them between 12 and 18 inches below ground. So, they’re deep, but they’re not super deep,” Foss told us.

Foss said dialing 811 before digging on your property is not only state law, but also an easy and safe way to make sure you’re not building a fire too close to existing utility lines.

Northrup said another thing to keep in mind is that while calling 811 can identify city or county utility lines, it will not mark lines that were installed privately or by a contractor. If you have a heated pool, outbuilding, or a permanent gas grill, there are likely active gas lines running to them as well.

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