We discovered through our local fire station that a burn ban is in place in our local area. But does this include our fire pit?
Burn bans cover any outdoor fire with an open flame. Open burning means the flame is directly under the open sky and doesn’t go up a chimney, stack, or flue. Fire pits produce open flames, so yes, they are included in burn bans.
The information on local burn bans is conflicting, so in this article, we’ve tried to answer what a burn ban is, why this covers fire pits – and how you can find out if there is a burn ban in operation in your area…
What is a Burn Ban? (What Does Open Burning Mean?)
A burn ban is a temporary prohibition on any kind of open flames outside your home. An open flame – or open burning – means that the flame is directly under the open sky. Smoke from an open burning flame doesn’t travel through a chimney, stack or flue, it just goes into the open air.
Burn ban rules are set by regulatory agencies looking out for all our best health and safety interests. The agencies are from cities, municipalities, counties, state, federal, weather services, clean air authorities, tribal authorities, national forests, or the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).
In researching burn ban rules, we found the rules were often vague and confusing. Ban rules changed from place to place, day to day and even within certain hours of the day.
In this article, we’ve generalized the rules. Check out our advice at the end of this piece for the best place to find burn ban rules in your area.
First, let’s define some burn ban language. A solid fuel is wood, wood pellets (looking at you, Traegerites), coal, and charcoal briquettes.
Liquid fuel usually refers to either “white gas” (a liquid petroleum product) or alcohol. Gas fuel can be propane or butane or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas).
A recreational fire is defined as a small open fire that uses standard fuel – no trash – and is limited in size to no more than 3 feet in diameter wide and 2 feet high. Burn permits are issued by your local fire department if you want a bonfire, or are doing agricultural or industrial burning.
Burn bans can be declared for two reasons: air quality and fire safety.
Air quality burn bans are issued temporarily on days with stagnant weather conditions – low or no breezes – typically during winter months when high cold air can trap warm surface air. Wood burning is particularly hazardous to those with respiratory or heart conditions due to the fine soot particles and toxic chemicals emitted in smoke.
For fire safety purposes, open burning – outdoor burning – may be banned temporarily due to dry weather conditions that make your area susceptible to grass or forest fires. Before declaring a burn ban, authorities look at wind speed predictions, humidity levels and recent grass or forest fire activity.
Before you set fire to anything outside, from Tiki torches to Traegers, check first to make sure it’s legal.
This comprehensive reference is sure to answer many of your questions on burn bans.
How Much is a Burn Ban Ticket?
The US Forest Service says that violating Stage 1 restrictions can result in a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. For the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the fine isn’t more than $1,000 and imprisonment not more than 12 months.
For the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), if your violation results in a fire, you will be liable for any and all suppression costs and property damage.
In Canada, violating a burn ban will cost you $1,150. If your small fire rages into a forest fire, the minimum fine is $100,000 but can go up to $1,000,000. Plus a one-year prison sentence.
Here’s the US Forest Service on the stages of fire restrictions.
Can You Use a Fire Pit During a Burn Ban? (Wood, Coal or Gas)
Fire pits do qualify as open burns. Solid fuel (wood and coal) fire pits can emit unhealthy smoke, are more difficult to extinguish instantaneously, emit embers that can blow a distance and have unburned materials that must be disposed of safely.
Gas fire pits don’t emit particulates, can be turned off instantaneously, have no embers, and they leave no uncombusted fuel. For these reasons, burn ban rules are different for solid fuel fire pits and gas ones.
Whether you can burn a solid fuel or gas fuel fire pit during a ban varies by area. Be sure to check where you live – ideally with the nearest fire station or sheriff’s office.
Wood fire pits can be banned due to unhealthy air quality and due to dry weather conditions. In some areas, exceptions are made if your fire pit can be fully enclosed with a close-fitting cover, sits off the ground, and you have followed the prescribed rules for distancing the fire pit from your home and clearing any vegetation around it.
Coal and wood fire pits need to be extinguished thoroughly, which isn’t always as easy as it seems. Then, the remains of the coal and wood have to be disposed of – another potential hazard. If you have a wood or coal fire pit, consider getting a cover screen to stop hot embers from blowing away.
Gas fire pits emit no smoke, so they are often OK to use during a Stage 1 burn ban. They can even be allowed during a Stage 2 burn ban if the manufacturer has met the safety specifications, and they have an on/off switch.
Here’s a Take A Yard article on fire pits.
Is a Gas Fire Pit Considered an Open Fire?
Yes, a gas fire pit is considered an open fire.
If you are shopping for a gas fire pit, read the specifications carefully to be sure it has passed safety guidelines. Then, check with your local authorities and then locate your fire pit within a safe distance from your house and clear any surrounding vegetation, including overhanging branches.
Most authorities recommend locating fire pits at least 10 feet away from anything flammable. Set your fire pit on a level, inflammable – no decks or grass – surface. Consider surrounding your fire pit with inflammable materials, like concrete, gravel or crushed stone.
Move the hose to a handy distance or invest in buckets to fill them with sand and water. Invest in a fire blanket or a dry chemical Class B or C fire extinguisher. Never leave your fire pit unattended. Surround the pit with heavy or built-in chairs, set at a safe distance.
Never burn a fire pit during windy conditions. Never throw trash onto your gas fire pit. Burning trash flames can shoot up uncontrollably and many types of trash – like Styrofoam plates – emit toxic fumes.
Can You Burn in a Barrel During a Burn Ban?
Burn barrels do qualify as open burning. Check-in with your local fire authority or sheriff’s office on whether you can burn in a barrel and what you can legally burn.
If your city or county allows it, here are some general safety tips for burn barrel burning:
- Top your barrel with a screen to prevent embers from flying upwards.
- Never burn on dry, windy days (any sustained winds or gusts over 15 miles per hour).
- Always keep watch over your fire. Never leave it unaccompanied.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy. If you don’t have one, keep a bucket or two of water – or a hose – nearby.
- Keep a shovel and a rake handy, in case you need to put out an ember that blows up.
This poster is for folks in the state of Washington. Check in your state or county for burn barrel bans.
Can You Grill During a Burn Ban?
Most Stage 1 burn bans allow both solid fuel (wood, wood pellets and charcoal) grills and gas fuel grills. Check with your local authorities. For Stage 1 ban rules, solid fuel grills must be fully enclosed by sides and a lid.
Stage 2 bans usually forbid solid fuel grilling but may allow gas grills. Gas grills can be shut down instantaneously, don’t emit smoke particles, and they don’t have unburned materials that have to be disposed of.
For all these reasons, in a Stage 2 ban, gas grills may be OK while charcoal grills or Traegers may be banned.
Summary: How Do I Find Out if There is a Burn Ban in My Area?
We searched for rules and regulations about burn bans and were amazed at the volume of vague and conflicting information on this important subject.
Check it out yourself. Do a search for your city, village or county. You may find they may have an exceptional website that is updated routinely with precise language that is easy to follow. Or not.
We recommend that you call or pay a visit to your nearest fire station or sheriff’s office. Go prepared with a list of questions. Take photos of your grill, fire pit or burn barrel. Ask them for the best way to stay up to date with burn status changes.
Here’s a video explaining Stage 2 US Forest Service restrictions. There’s a Stage 1 video as well in this series.
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