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What to Know About Open Burning


If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should have something like a backyard fire pit at your home, there are some pros to doing so, but also some pretty big cons you have to weigh.

For one, you have to think about the risk of injury that can stem from fire pits. For example, you could face premises liability if someone was hurt on your property because of your fire pit.

You also have to think about laws and regulations and general health and safety.

A fire pit is considered open burning, and it’s just one example.

The following is a guide to what you should know about open burning, and especially what the risks could be, so you can make an informed decision.

What is Open Burning?

One of many people’s favorite ways to relax or even entertain is around a fire. A fire can be warm and soothing and give you a good ambiance and atmosphere in your backyard.

However, due to the increase in the frequency of wildfires, many parts of the country have implemented burn bans altogether.

Every municipality will have its own laws about burning and what’s considered open burning. The regulations might be different if you want to burn trash compared to burning an ambient fire. Open burning is typically defined as a fire where anything is burned on the ground or in an open container not connected to a chimney or stack, including campfires.

In many places, as long as there’s not an increased wildfire risk, you may be able to burn things like untreated lumber, leaves, branches, limbs, twigs, and yard trimmings. Things that are often banned from being burned include plastics, rubber and tires, aerosol cans, building material and construction debris, household trash, and materials that contain asbestos.

For a campfire or fire pit that you’re using in your backyard, some of the guidelines to pay attention to include whether or not there is an outlined safe distance that a fire must be from a building.

Typically, the distance is 20-30 feet. You should learn what’s considered a recreational fire where you live, which is usually based on things like the location and size, and you need to know if open burning is legal at all in your area because it may not be.

You should research to figure out the type of fire that you need a permit from authorities to burn.

As far as fire pits, they’re often only restricted when there’s low air quality or there’s a higher chance of a fire.

There are further restrictions in some areas compared to others. For example, in Chicago, you can have a fire pit or outdoor fireplace, but they have to include a lid, and you can only use firewood with them. If you want to burn something like leaves, you have to leave the city limits.

Talk To Your Neighbors

If you’re going to burn something, even if you’re within your legal rights and you have the proper permits, you should show courtesy to your neighbors.

Fires can cause significant health issues for some neighbors, so you should ask them whether or not they have something like a respiratory condition before you start a fire. Your neighbors, even without health conditions, will probably want to be alerted before you have a fire so they can close their windows.

Fires, even when they’re recreational, can lead to fine-particle air pollution. Children, teens, and older people, as well as people with lung and heart diseases like COPD and asthma, can be especially sensitive to the particle pollution that comes from wood smoke.

You want to generally think about your neighbors and also give consideration to the wind direction before you burn anything.

Only Burn Firewood

Rather than using fires to burn any kind of household garbage, which is illegal and also hazardous, burn only firewood. It’s not advisable to burn yard waste because, again, it can affect the air quality, your health, your family’s health, and the health of the people around you.

If you have yard waste, a better option for disposal can be checking with your county to find out what their pick-up or drop-off options are.

Don’t Let Fires Smolder

When you create a fire that’s a hot burning, there’s complete combustion. That can reduce the amount of generated pollution. However, a fire that’s not well constructed or is left to smolder creates a lot of unhealthy smoke. You should fully put out a fire when you’re done.

Check for Air Alerts

Wood smoke makes air quality worse, especially when it’s already bad. Check air pollution health advisories in your area before you burn anything.

Some local governments prevent fires altogether on days when the air quality index is above 100. When the air quality index goes above 100, it’s a level where air pollution can affect vulnerable and sensitive groups.

Fire and Smoke Safety

Be mindful of the signs that smoke could be negatively affecting you or the people around you.

You might notice a runny nose, burning eyes, cough, wheezing, or problems breathing.

If you have heart disease, you could experience shortness of breath, fatigue, palpitations, or chest pain. If you have lung disease, you might not be able to breathe as deeply as usual, and you can experience phlegm, chest discomfort, and wheezing.

You also want to think about fire safety at all times, aside from just watching for signs the smoke is bothering you.

For example, don’t light a fire or fire pit when it’s under a building overhang or under trees. Keep the area around the pit free of yard waste and flammable materials.

Don’t burn any construction lumber because it’s treated with chemical resin and other substances that can trigger toxic fume emissions.

Finally, you should always be ready to put your fire out safely. Keep water and a shovel nearby, and if there is an emergency, use the water to quench the fire and then smother the flames by throwing dirt at them. You might also want to have a fire blanket handy.

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