Careless Spring Burning Sparks Wildfires

It takes preparation and monitoring to ensure ditch banks, fencelines or piles are burned safely.

Salt Lake City, Utah – Fire officials are issuing a strong caution as warmer weather arrives. Several field clearing and debris burns in several counties have escaped, requiring action by firefighters. Fire managers say these fires were all preventable and they recommend taking some simple precautions to safely and successfully burn.

  • Notify your local fire department of your intention to burn and obtain proper permit(s); some departments may offer to put a fire engine on standby at your burn.
  • Never burn on windy days. Check your local forecast, and be alert to wind and temperature. Weather changes quickly in Utah.
  • Clear away vegetation to create firebreaks between burn areas and adjacent fields, structures and trees.
  •  Before burning, establish control lines. Control lines should be even wider around brush and debris piles to be burned. The larger the pile, the wider the control line needs to be to ensure flying embers won’t hit dry grass when they land.
  • Keep a charged hose and a shovel nearby (if a hose isn’t possible, 5-gallon water buckets).
  • Stay with your burn; never leave the fire unattended, even briefly.

Notification of the nearest fire department before burning is required by law in ALL CASES (failure to do so is a Class B misdemeanor). Many of the costly and embarrassing experiences so far this year could have been avoided with a simple phone call. Preparation beforehand can make the difference between success and disaster. In addition to preparations, slow and gradual lighting of an area allows for greater control of a fire’s pace.

Open burning is regulated on a state level by state law and rule. Most counties and cities also have ordinances, so, people wishing to burn fields, ditches and waste piles should determine whether it is legal to burn before lighting anything. Yard debris and slash piles are governed by stricter county and city laws, so the public should consult local ordinances. In addition, many areas are subject to Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

It is always the responsibility of the person lighting and tending the fire to take the needed precautions and prevent its escape. A permit or notification call does not relieve a person from liability if the fire gets away or damages someone else’s property, so good judgment is advised. Fire suppression is expensive; therefore all escaped burns are investigated to recover costs.

If the fire gets away – then what?

Despite preparations, fire can still escape. If things begin to get out of hand, regardless of whether the fire is legal or not, it should be PUT OUT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. If it escapes control, do not put yourself or others at risk, call 911 immediately.

Burning is not the only option for getting rid of debris; in fact it is a source of air pollution. Many landfills have sites available for organic material disposal. Cities and counties restrict open burning to October through May; a permit is required in most cases after May 31.