Prevent Wildfires: Consider Alternatives to Debris Burning

The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and other fire prevention experts urge the public to exercise caution when disposing of yard debris this spring. With fires already occurring in the state, particularly in the Southwest and Central Oregon District, Oregonians need to keep fire prevention at the top of their mind. 

Now is a great time to trim trees and bushes, and tidy up plants around your home to create a “defensible space” around your property. Defensible space creates a buffer around your home that can help protect your home from catching fire and provides firefighters with a safe space to work from. 

After your clean-up, you will have a lot to dispose of. Debris burning is the leading human-related fire cause on ODF-protected lands, so as you begin this spring clean-up, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Keep Oregon Green urge you to put some extra thought into how you want to dispose of your yard debris. 

Considering alternatives to burning like composting, chipping, or slowly disposing of it via your yard debris bin (if you have one) helps to prevent wildfire in your area. Check with your local disposal company for recycling options. By choosing an alternative disposal method, or burning under safe conditions outside of fire season, you can help significantly reduce the risk of a wildfire.

If you would still prefer to burn your yard debris, consider waiting until the rainy fall and winter seasons. Delaying your burn plans will give the debris more time to cure and avoid holdover fires when the weather gets hotter and drier over the next several weeks. You can cover part of the pile with plastic to preserve a dry area to start your fire. 

If burning now is the only option to dispose of yard debris, fire prevention specialists ask people to follow safe burning practices. The following tips can help stop runaway burn piles:

  • Call before you burn –  Burning regulations vary by location depending on the weather and fuel conditions. If you are planning to burn, check with your local ODF district, fire protective association, fire department, or air protection authority to learn about current burning restrictions or regulations, and if you need a permit.
  • Stay with the fire until it is out cold – NEVER leave your debris burn unattended. State laws requires monitoring of debris burn piles from start to finish until it is out cold. This law is intended to ensure sparks or embers that jump from the fire can be put out quickly.
  • Know the weather – Burn early in the day and never burn on dry or windy days, because fires can spread out of control more easily.
  • Clear a 10-foot fuel-free buffer around the pile – Make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above.
  • Keep burn piles small – Large burn piles can cast hot embers long distances. Keep piles small, maximum of four feet by four feet. Add debris to the pile in small amounts as the pile burns.
  • Always have water and fire tools nearby – When burning, have a charged water hose or a bucket of water, and shovel on hand to put out the fire. Drown the pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again, repeating until the fire is cold to the touch.
  • Go back and check burn piles. They can retain heat for several weeks and restart when the weather warms up and winds blow.
  • Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids to start or speed up your fire.
  • Burn only yard debris – State laws prohibit burning materials or trash that create dense smoke or noxious odors.
  • Costs of runaway debris burns– State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires all year. If your debris burn spreads out of control, you may have to pay for suppression costs, as well as the damage to your neighbors’ properties, which can be extremely expensive.

More tips on wildfire prevention, including campfire safety, motorized equipment use, and fire-resistant landscaping can be found on the Keep Oregon Green website. Check the public use restrictions for Oregon Department of Forestry protected lands before you burn.

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