What to know before outdoor burning this fall

Outdoor burning is a leading cause of wildfire ignitions, smoke and certain pollutants. Photo DNR
Outdoor debris burning is a leading cause of wildfire ignitions, smoke and certain pollutants. Photo DNR

Fall and winter can bring rough weather conditions that wreak havoc by tearing limbs from trees.

When you need to clear away yard and tree debris after a storm, however, think about options other than outdoor burning. Outdoor debris burning is a leading cause of wildfire ignitions, smoke and certain pollutants. Visit the Department of Ecology’s air quality website to find your local clean air agency for burn ban information. Or, if you choose, see what alternatives exist to outdoor burning.

If you must burn, prepare properly and know the rules for burning with or without a permit. Here are a few important rules to always follow:

  • Burn only natural vegetation. Material growing in and/or gathered from improved property, such as yard and garden debris, cannot be burned under DNR regulations.
  • Burn piles are at least 50 feet from structures and 500 feet from any forest slash.
  • The area around the burn pile is clear of any flammable debris.
  • The winds are calm or light. It is too windy to burn if trees are swaying, flags are extended, or waves appear on open water.
  • Maintain a connected water hose or at least five gallons of water and a shovel nearby.
  • Attend the fire until it is completely extinguished.
  • Be prepared to extinguish the fire if it becomes a nuisance.

    Even animals can suffer from smoky conditions.
    Even animals can suffer from smoky conditions.

If you are not burning right away, stack your pile of debris and cover it at least partially to keep the interior dry. Piles are easier to burn when drier, plus they generate a lot less smoke. You can use just about anything, such as plastic, old tarps, lumber wraps, or cardboard. Just be sure to remove the cover before igniting your pile, as you may be fined for burning prohibited materials. Besides, the cover can be reused the next time you plan to burn.

Finally, choose the right weather for burning. Generally, cloudy days are favorable. The air on cloudy days tends to be unstable and generates enough wind to disperse smoke.

If you have a burn barrel, don’t use it. In fact, just get rid of it – burn barrels are illegal in Washington state and have been for quite some time.

For more information on outdoor burning, go to DNR’s Outdoor Burning webpage: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/OutdoorBurning