Open Burning Legislation

With the intensification of wildfires across the nation and in neighboring countries, we’ve all become more keenly aware of the inherent environmental and health risks associated with fires, even on a smaller scale. Does your community have open burning ordinances in place that are clear, understandable, and aligned with state statutes?

What is open burning?

Generally, the term “open burning” (or “outdoor burning”) is defined as the incineration of combustible materials where the products of combustion are emitted into the open air without passing through a chimney or stack. Types of open burning can include, but are not limited to bonfires, fire pits, campfires, burning trash, leaves, and other yard waste in backyards and open areas.

View sample open burning legislation >

Some burning questions

Why is outdoor/open burning so heavily regulated? Who doesn’t enjoy sitting around a warming fire with friends on a late summer evening in your backyard or at a campsite? And who can deny the evocative aroma of burning leaves on a cool autumn day?

After all, isn’t it more environmentally sound to burn leaves or household trash rather than pack them into large plastic bags and carry them off to a growing, mountainous landfill? The answer to that last question requires an understanding of the negative impacts of the by-products released by these fires and the increased risk of contaminants that can damage the ecosystem.

The hazards of open burning

Studies show that open burning of an individual household’s trash can release pollutants in higher levels than burning the trash of thousands of homes by a municipal waste incinerator. Lower combustion temperatures of open burning prevents complete incineration, allowing dioxins, volatile organic compounds, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, and naphthalene. Toxic emissions like this may irritate eyes, skin and the upper respiratory tract. In some cases, the central nervous system can also be affected, causing headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Additionally, open burning poses multiple environmental risks. When smoke pollutes the air, it’s inhaled by humans and animals, and deposited in the soil and surface water, and on plants.

Ash can impact health through the leaching of heavy metals and other potentially toxic compounds that can end up in streams, lakes and rivers, or in drinking water supplies, and our food chain.

And burning anything in the outdoors has the potential to spark a wildfire. When this happens, unfortunately, the environmental impacts don’t end when the flames are extinguished. Tree mortality, invasive plants, erosion, and road instability are just some of the dangers and damages that that follow a wildfire.

To burn or not to burn

In an effort to reduce pollution and maintain air quality, each state in the U.S. has laws and regulations in place that prohibit certain types of open/outdoor burning. State regulations are typically meant to control business, trade, industry, salvage, or demolition operations.

More restrictive policies can be adopted at the local level. Local ordinances generally address burning of trash, leaves and yard waste, use of fire pits, bonfires, and rubbish or solid waste.

Specifically, many ordinances cover items such as:

  • Required fire safety equipment
  • Prohibition of specific items
  • Complete bans of certain fires or burning
  • Applications for permits
  • Seasonal restrictions
  • Exceptions
  • Penalties

Useful examples of open burning legislation from the eCode360® Library

If your community is interested in regulating open burning by legislating or updating ordinances, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:

Updating your municipal code is vitally important

Submit your code updates as soon as possible to ensure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Make it part of your Board meeting close-out process to send your adopted legislative changes to General Code when everything from that meeting is already right at hand.

General Code clients can easily send legislation to [email protected] (If you’re located in Texas, please submit your legislation to [email protected]) For tips that will allow us to process your code updates most efficiently, click here.


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