How to Not Start a Wildfire When Burning Debris

Posted in blog on October 18, 2016

California wildfires are a rampant problem, especially as the state continues to undergo a water shortage and extended drought period. Increasingly dry conditions combined with negligent fire safety practices lead to thousands of fires every year, consuming personal property, causing burn injuries, and even taking lives.

From January 1 to September 17, 2016, there were 4,802 fires in California, involving 204,379 acres. That’s 525 more fires than the same time period in 2015 and 885 more than the five-year average. Humans cause about 95% of all California wildfires. As the risk of wildfire continues to rise in California, do your part as a responsible citizen and practice safe debris-burning habits.

Check Your Local Fire Station

Law enforcement allows residential debris burning of landscaping and dead vegetation in California, but only during certain times of the year when the risk of fire is lowest. Always contact your local fire station or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to check if you’re currently allowed to burn debris in your area. You may need to have a burn permit in parts of the state. Contact your local Air Pollution Control District to find out about permitting rules in your neighborhood. During the dry months, CAL FIRE will ban debris burning altogether.

Burn Your Debris Wisely

When it comes to burning piles of debris in a fire-prone region in California, don’t throw caution to the wind. Do everything in your power to ensure a safe, controlled burn. If you don’t have the equipment or ability to perform a controlled burn, don’t burn debris at all. When in doubt, call the fire department and warn them that you will be burning debris in your location. It can’t hurt to make the authorities aware of your plans. Follow these best practices:

  • Keep piles small. The maximum is four feet by four feet.
  • Don’t pile debris larger than the maximum size of four feet in diameter.
  • Remove any flammable vegetation and materials within 10 feet of the outer edge of your piles.
  • Keep a water supply and a shovel nearby to smother flames if necessary.
  • Attend your fire, or have a responsible adult do so, until the flames go out.
  • Do not burn debris unless weather conditions are optimal for safe burning. Windy conditions are especially dangerous for accidentally starting forest fires.

It’s your duty as a responsible citizen to follow safe practices while burning debris at your residence. Accidentally starting a wildfire can cause immense property and personal damage, potentially leading to a personal injury lawsuit against you.

Follow Local and State Ordinances

The only type of debris California officials allow residents to burn is dry, natural vegetation. You cannot burn garbage or household trash at your residence. You can only burn debris outdoors, in small open piles. If your local ordinances prohibit residential debris burning, you must dispose of your debris in a different way. There are several alternatives to burning natural debris to consider.

Contact your local air district to find out if it’s a “Permissive Burn Day.” Residents can only burn debris in California on Burn Days, as the State Air Resources Board determines. Burning on days other than designated Burn Days can result in hefty fines and even imprisonment, especially if you cause a forest fire and/or injury. Breaking any of the state and local ordinances regarding debris burning is a violation of state law and can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances.

Fire agencies in San Diego need the public’s help to prevent wildfires. Simple habits such as ensuring you completely extinguish a debris burn can help put an end to destructive fires in our area. Burning landscape debris is an efficient way to eliminate unwanted vegetation waste but only if you abide by all relevant rules.

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