Learn to Burn Safely

Wildland fires caused from people burning in barrels, pits, slash piles, or agricultural burning is a common problem in Idaho. On average, about one out of every five human-caused wildfires is started by someone burning debris and trash. Many escaped fires are illegally started due to people violating burn restrictions enforced during high fire danger months. Burn permits may be required or burning may be halted due to fire danger. The Department of Environmental quality may also impose further burning restrictions due to air quality.

In order to avoid costly fines and citations, make sure you know where and when burning is allowed. It is also important to call your local fire department before you burn to get all the facts and information you need to conduct your burn safely. If you live outside a fire district, contact your county sheriff’s department for further instructions on how to obtain a burn permit. Failure to get a burning permit beforehand may result in an unnecessary response from your local fire department. Also, find out what is OK to burn and what is NOT OK to burn.

During the closed season in Idaho, between May 10th and October 20th every year, burn permits are required. To learn more about safe burning practices, consult your BLM, USFS, IDL or local Fire Department office. Remember the steps you take before you strike make all the difference. There are simple precautions that you can take to prevent escaped fires.

Burning Guidelines

There are specific guidelines for agricultural, debris, and burn barrel/incinerator burning that you will need to be aware of, but whatever type of burning you are considering, think before you strike:

  1. Obtain a burn permit when needed and comply with the conditions of that permit.
  2. Make sure you will be in compliance with local air quality regulations.
  3. Watch the weather. Avoid burning on windy, hot, and dry days. Wait to burn if: winds are over 8mph, temperature is above 80 degrees, and thunderstorm activity is predicted.
  4. Have tools, shovels and a supply of water or fire extinguisher on hand.
  5. Be prepared to stay and monitor your fire until it is out.
  6. Never leave any fire unattended!

Who is responsible?

Anyone starting a fire is responsible for that fire until it is out! If your fire gets away, you can be held responsible and liable for any property damages and for fire suppression costs.

OK to burn

  • Natural vegetation
  • Grass, leaves, needles
  • Garden waste
  • Shrub and tree trimmings
  • Stubble
  • Logging/thinning slash
  • Some household waste consisting of paper and cardboard if no residential trash pick-up service is available.

Please, consider recycling or composting before burning these items.  Also note that none of the above items are OK to burn residentially if they are trade waste (bi-products resulting from a trade or business).

NOT OK to burn

  • Plastics
  • Tires and other rubber materials
  • Paint
  • Tar and petroleum products
  • Vehicles or materials from vehicles
  • Preservative treated lumber or timbers
  • Railroad ties
  • Insulated wire
  • Hazardous waste
  • Trade waste (commercial, industrial, or construction bi-products)
  • Pathogenic (disease causing) waste
  • Garbage from food preparation
  • Dead animals or animal waste
  • Asphalt

Think green, recycle!

Open burning of crop residue is a method used by growers in Idaho and many other areas of the country to improve yields, reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides, reduce fire hazards, and control disease, weeds, and pests.

Crop residue burning, like any other form of burning, creates smoke, which can endanger public health.  To minimize the health impacts of smoke generated by crop residue burning, state law and rules govern when, where, and how crop residue burning may be conducted in the state. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is the state agency assigned by the Idaho Legislature to manage this practice on lands other than the five Indian Reservations in Idaho. (For information on field burning on reservations in Idaho, contact individual Tribes.)

What You Should Know:

  • Burning may be conducted only when a permit is issued.
  • Burning may be conducted only on days designated by DEQ as burn days.
  • Burn days are limited to  weekdays (no burning on weekends and state and federal holidays).
  • Burning is limited to daylight hours (after sunrise and before sunset).
  • An acceptable burn day occurs when air quality is good and is expected to continue to be good, as indicated by pollutant levels.
  • Burning may only be conducted in fields in which the crop residue was generated.
  • Fields may be ignited by reburn machines, propane flamers, or other portable devices. Tires and other restricted materials prohibited by state rules may not be used to ignite fields.
  • Burn approval decisions are based on air quality conditions; proximity to towns, schools, roads, hospitals, canyon rims, etc.; the order of burn requests received from applicants; and other relevant factors.

 Safe Practices:

  • Make a firebreak before you start.
  • Check weather forecasts. Do not burn on hot windy days!
  • Make sure you have enough people, water, and equipment/hand tools available to control the fire if it threatens to escape.
  • When burning fields, ditch banks or fence lines, it is always safest to ignite against the wind.
  • Be prepared to stay until the fire is out and if the wind does pick-ups, put your fire out. Most fires escape because they are left unattended and/or winds increase in speed or change direction.
  • Build debris piles in openings away from structures, trees, overhead branches, and power lines.
  • Clear litter and grass a minimum of 5-6 feet way form piles.
  • Keep piles small – approximately 4-5 feet in diameter and height. High, narrow piles burn better than low, wide ones.
  • Covered piles can be burned during periods of wet weather when escape is not a concern. If covered with plastic, remove it before burning the pile.
  • Keep piles free of dirt. Wet or dirt-covered materials burn poorly causing the fire to smolder and emit more smoke.
  • Check with your local fire departments before burning large tree slash piles because they burn hot and are difficult to control flying embers.
  • Make sure burn barrels are legal in your area. If you have scheduled trash pick-up then it may be illegal for you to utilize a burn barrel. Local city, county or rural fire departments may have additional requirements for burn barrels (incinerators).
  • Burn barrels should be at least 10 feet from combustible materials such as walls, fences, and roofs. They must have a metal screen (spark arrestor) with openings no larger than on-half inch, so hot embers cannot escape.
  • Small holes cut in the sides of the barrel near the bottom will create a draft that wil cause the fire to burn hotter with less smoke.
  • Placing barrels on bricks or concrete blocks and cutting small holes in the bottom allows rainwater to drain which prolongs the life of the barrel.
  • A 10-foot clearance from all flammable vegetation needs to be maintained throughout the growing season.