This past march New England was hit with three Nor’easter storms in less than two weeks. The storms left behind many downed trees and branches and extensive property damage. When the surrounding streets look like this (below photo: Pembroke, MA), residents and towns are left with a massive cleanup and piles of brush and branches that require disposal.
In Massachusetts, where permitted by the individual community, the season for open burning is Jan 1 through May 1, but this will vary state by state (historically, April is the busiest month for brush fires in Massachusetts, because of the increase in open burning and the need to clean up after winter). Residents, or anyone, wishing to conduct an open burn should first contact their local fire department, regardless of location, to determine local requirements and restrictions for open burning in their town/state as provisions differ community by community.
Per NFPA 1, permits are required to conduct open burning and should follow the provisions of Section 1.12 of the Code. By requiring permits for certain activities, the AHJ can ensure that operations are performed in a safe manner. Often times communities may limit the number of permits they issue so that the town can control the amount of burning that occurs as well as ensure they have adequate resources available should an emergency situation arise.
Where the burning is conducted on public property or the property of someone other than the applicant, the applicant must be able to show that permission has been given by the appropriate agency, owner or authorized agent. In addition, weather conditions or hours may restrict burning and the limits must be designated in the permit restrictions (check your local community for restrictions due to weather conditions or time restrictions where limited available firefighting services may be available, and never assume that burning is permitted).
Once an open fire is approved and permitted a few additional steps should be taken to ensure the burn stays confined and is done safely:
- (10.10.4.1) Fires shall be located not less than 50 ft (15 m) from any structure. In the event that brands and embers are given off, or that the fire becomes out of control, the 50 ft (15 m) requirement provides some distance between the fire and the structures. Depending on conditions or local provisions, the AHJ can increase this distance to provide adequate protection.
- (10.10.4.2) Burning hours are to be prescribed by the AHJ. The AHJ can determine the hours that burning is to take place. Many jurisdictions permit burning hours during daylight hours and others only at night. The fire department and the dispatch center should be kept informed of where burning is taking place, because they may receive calls from surrounding residents reporting smoke or flames in the area.
- (10.10.5.1, 10.10.5.2) Open fires must be constantly attended by a competent person until the fire is extinguishes and this person is required to have a garden hose connected to the water supply or other fire-extinguishing equipment readily available for use. The presence of a competent person who has access to readily available fire-extinguishing equipment and knowledge of how to use that equipment is important to maintaining a safe outdoor fire. Outdoor fires frequently burn out of control because no one is in attendance to notify the fire department and to take action to prevent fire spread. The AHJ should establish guidelines for safe burning and can require fire apparatus to be present where the situation warrants.
What regulations do you or your jurisdiction enforce around outdoor fires and burning? Have you been involved in a situation where a permitted burn became out of control? What have you seen gone wrong with open fires?
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