The leaves are falling, and for many landowners that means it’s time for fall cleanup.  Many folks rely on burning for the disposal of yard debris.  Before you burn, be  sure to obtain all necessary permits and take all proper precautions to ensure a safe burn.  Better yet, consider alternative disposal methods to burning, as a fire that goes out of control can become quite costly to you, both in property loss and fines!

October, November, and December (along with March, April, and May) are considered to be the times of the year when the dangers of wildfire are the highest in Maryland.  Fallen leaves and twigs are drying out, and temperatures are still warm.  Although Maryland does not see the huge wildfires that have become all too  common in the Western U.S., we do experience our share of woods, brush, and field fires every year.

Last year, over 800 wildfires burned more than 3000 acres in Maryland.  In the six-county central Maryland region, 119 fires burned almost 200 acres.  The top three causes of these wildfires were children (usually playing with matches), arson, and debris burning.

Alternatives to debris burning include composting, disposal at a local landfill where the yard debris can be turned into mulch, or periodic curb-side pick-up by your
regular trash collector.

If you feel that you must burn, take the following precautions.  First, a permit is required for all open air burning except for small campfires contained within a fire ring.  Call the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management (410-887-4066) to obtain a permit.  An additional permit is required from the Maryland DNR - Forest Service (410-665-5820) if the burn will take place in woodland and within 200 feet of woodland, or adjacent to or within an area where flammable materials could ignite and carry fire to woodland, and the following four conditions cannot be met.  1.) Burning must occur between the hours of 4 p.m. and  2 midnight.  2.) There must be a fire break that is free of flammable materials at least 10 feet wide completely around the material to be burned.  3.) Adequate personnel  and equipment must be present to prevent the fire from escaping.  4.) At least one responsible person must remain at the location of the fire until the last spark is out.

Burning regulations are enforced by the Maryland DNR - Forest Service. Violations carry fines up to $1000 and/or 1 year in prison.  Make sure that an open air burning  an is not in effect.  Do not burn during windy or dry conditions.  The landowner can also be charged with all of the costs associated with extinguishing the fire.  Even  mall campfires can cause wildfires if they are not fully extinguished.  Soak the coals with lots of water and make sure they are out cold!

If you must burn, take the time to ensure that all safety and regulatory precautions have been taken.  And remember Smokey Bear’s message: “Only You Can Prevent  Forest Fires!”

For more information, contact the Maryland DNR - Forest Service at 410-665- 5820 or 410-836-4551.