Backyard Debris Safely Spring is the ideal time to reduce the excess vegetation around your home. With “Stay at Home” orders keeping us all in our backyards a bit more often than usual these days, the urge to burn the branches just pruned or the weeds pulled is also higher. As spring clean-up begins, the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group encourages chipping or recycling yard debris. If burning is the only option to dispose of woody material, safety needs to be the first priority.
Escaped debris burns are the leading human cause of wildfires. These escapes are particularly common in the spring and fall, when people assume conditions are OK. “On a windy day, a debris burn can easily become a large fire quickly,” says Ashley Blazina, Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Community Wildfire Preparedness Coordinator. “Even the safest of yard debris burns can get away,” says Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Coordinator Tom Fields.
“One of the most common issues is when days or weeks after the fire is out, a warm, windy day will breathe life into the old pile and rekindle it back to life.” Fields says if you have already burned this spring to be sure and return to the site periodically and make sure that there is no heat or smoke coming from the pile.
Fire officials offer these additional simple safety tips that will help prevent unnecessary escaped debris burns:
* Call before you burn. Burning regulations are not the same in all areas and can vary with weather and fuel conditions. If you’re planning to burn, check with your forestry office, fire district, or air protection authority to learn if there are any current burning restrictions in effect, and whether a permit is required.
* Place yard debris in an open area away from structures, trees and power lines.
* Create small piles (4 feet by 4 feet) to better manage the burn.
* Cover portions of piles for later. If conditions are not right for burning now, cover portions of piles with a tarp or polyethylene plastic (landscape material) to keep dry for lighting later.
* When conditions improve, check with your local fire agency for any regulations in place.
* Never burn when it’s windy.
* To maintain containment, scrape the area around your pile down to bare soil at least 3 feet out on all sides. Additional grass, leaves, mulch, or other flammable material could catch fire. Keep a shovel and hose turned on nearby to manage the burn in case it escapes.
* Make sure the pile is completely out (no embers or smoldering) before leaving.
* Return periodically over several weeks to make sure the pile is still out. The pile should have no heat and no smoke. Spring pile burns that were not completely put out have been known to ignite months later.
* Never use gasoline or other accelerants (flammable or combustible liquids) to start or increase your open fire.
Every year, 10 to 15 percent of all burn injuries treated at the Oregon Burn Center in Portland are the result of backyard debris burning. * Burn only yard debris. Organic materials like leaves, sticks, and branches are the only things that should be in your piles.
* Environmental quality regulations prohibit the open burning of any material that creates dense smoke or noxious odors.
Remember: Escaped debris burns are costly. State laws require the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires any time of year and come with a sizable fine if not in compliance. If your debris burn spreads out of control, you are responsible for the cost of fire suppression and very likely the damage to neighboring properties. This can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.