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Extend summer with outdoor fireplaces Add to ...

Baby, it's getting cold outside. And the days are getting shorter. This is the time of year when most Canadians fold up their lawn chairs and move indoors. But with the growing popularity of outdoor fireplaces, we're enjoying those starry nights well into the fall.

"In Canada," says Kelly Deck, host of HGTV's Take it Outside, "we have many cool months and fireplaces extend the time we have outside." Deck attributes our growing desire to be outdoors, in part, on rising real-estate prices. "People are looking to maximize the square footage of their living space, and spending time outdoors, even in cool weather, does that."

But for most of us it's a nostalgic thing. Sitting around a crackling fire under the stars on a cool evening evokes childhood memories of toasted marshmallows, even though that circle of stones can now be consigned to the past.

Weber has introduced a stylish and portable gas fireplace that generates the ambience of a roaring fire with the flick of a switch. Unlike the ubiquitous clay chimineas, the Weber Flame ($899.99 at Weber dealers across Canada, http://www.weber.com) burns clean and features a heavy-duty tip-proof base. It also comes with lava rocks and eight ceramic "logs."

If your inner camper insists on a real wood fire, the Patio Hearth Pro by Hedonics is a substantial unit that burns charcoal, wood or pressed logs and comes with an adjustable cooking grid so it can convert from hearth to grill ($249.99 from Hedonics, http://www.hedonics.com).

Canadian Tire also carries a range of outdoor hearths, including a handsome stainless steel model for $179.99 and a more decorative marble and copper fire bowl for $249.99 ( http://www.canadiantire.ca).

But if you go with wood, you may be playing with fire when it comes to the law. Many Canadian municipalities prohibit open-air fires unless they are used for cooking, but Captain Dan Walsh of Toronto Fire Services admits: "It depends on the use. If you use them safely, they probably won't be a problem."

Still, if your neighbour complains about smoke, you may have a man in uniform showing up at the door. Unless you're grilling dinner (and marshmallows don't count).

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