Frequently Asked "Burning Questions" Q&A with your local Fire Warden
When can I burn? The period from May 10th to October 20th of each year, has been designated as the closed season for fires in the state of Idaho. During the closed season, it is unlawful for any person to set, or cause to be set, a fire without first having obtained a Burn Permit. State of Idaho Burn Permits may be obtained from the local protective district fire warden or from the State of Idaho Burn Permit website. Campfires, unless specifically prohibited during periods of critical fire danger, may be set without a Burn Permit.
Outside of the closed season, you may burn without a permit at any time air dispersion is good (see What about air quality?below). At no time shall any fire be set when the wind is blowing to such an extent as to cause danger of the fire getting beyond the control of the person responsible for setting it, or without sufficient people, tools, supplies and firefighting equipment to control it.
If my fire gets away, am I liable? YES, in most cases! People who start wildfires through careless burning are usually held liable in court for both damages caused by the fire and for the costs of putting the fire out. Property damages and fire suppression costs can easily run into many thousands of dollars, so it's important to burn safely.
What causes a burn to get out of control? Common causes of escaped burns: 1. Too much wind: Winds can change quickly. Sudden or unexpected changes in windspeed and/or wind direction may cause a burn to escape control. Burning on windy days can quickly cause a small fire to spread rapidly in grass or brush. Burning with too much wind can carry sparks and burning embers downwind which can ignite spot fires as much as 200 yards away from your burn pile. Small piles are are also easier to extinguish if burning conditions unexpectedly change. If a burn pile begins to get too hot, spray it with water or throw dirt on it to cool the fire. The pile will continue to burn, but at a slower rate more manageable rate. 2. Too large of a pile: Large piles burn with greater intensity and can often ignite adjacent fuels. Burning large piles without adequate clearance can cause damages and limit your ability to control the fire. 3. Unattended burn pile: Too often burn piles are ignited and left unattended. Burning conditions can change unexpectedly resulting in a loss of control. Pick pile locations carefully. Build piles in open areas away from overhead branches or wires. Clear unable materials from around piles. Do not build piles on top of stumps or rotten logs that may smolder for days. It is highly recommended that the person responsible for setting a fire stay in attendance until the fire is out. 4. Assuming your burn pile will go out on its own: Frequently, large burn piles smolder for days after they are ignite, particularly wet or dirty piles. Large logging slash piles have been known to continue to burn over an entire winter. Assuming a fire is out frequently leads to un-extinguished embers flaring up unexpectedly during windy or warmer conditions. Hand check your fire to assure your fire is out before calling it out. (see How can I burn safely and effectively? below).
When are the safest times of year to burn? The safest times to burn are in the early spring after vegetation greens up and in late fall after rains have throughly wet things down. Covering burn piles to keep them dry, and burning after it has snowed is the safest time to burn.
What is the best time of day to burn? As a general rule, to reduce the chance of igniting spitfires, it is best to burn very early or late in the day when the relative humidity (the amount of moisture in the air) is usually highest. As the day warms, the humidity decreases and reaches its lowest levin in mid-afternoon. Mid-afternoon, the driest time of the day, is the most likely time for a spotfire(s) to occur. It is best to plan the ignition of your burn to avoid active burning during this time of day. In the late afternoon, after temperatures begin to cool, the relative humidity beings to increase again making it a safer time to burn.
What about air quality? When timing your burn, be considerate of your neighbors and don't smoke them out. Do not ignite a burn pile when air quality is already poor. Avoid burning when the air mass is stagnant (hazy skies, persistently calm, smoke columns from chimneys or burn piles sides only a short distance before flattening out). Poor smoke dispersion and stagnant air masses can be common in the fall. To find out about air quality conditions or current burn restrictions visit the Idaho Department of Enviromental Quality (DEQ) Daily Air Quality Reports web page: http://deq.idaho.gov/air-quality/monitoring/daily-reports-and-forecasts.aspx
How can I burn safely and effectively? 1. Obtain a burn permit, (May 10th - October 20th) and follow the required conditions. 2. Check the weather forecast before igniting. 3. Do not burn when it is windy, or high winds are predicted. 4. Burn very early in the day or late in the evening, especially in warmer weather. 5. Have a water source and hand tools; rake, shovel, pulaski etc ready and available. 6. If possible, wet down adjacent fuels before burning. 7. Pick pile locations carefully. Build piles in open areas. Scrape away debris and any other burnable materials several feet around the pile. Do not build piles on top of stumps, directly under tree limbs, below power lines, or adjacent to heavy or continuous fuels. 8. Keep piles small and burn only one or two at a time. 9. Don't leave the burn until it is completely out. Fire can smolder in duff, logs and underground roots for days and even weeks. 10. Check the burn for the next day or two to be sure it is out. Feel along the edges with your bare hand to see if there is heat. Mix the coals with dirt and water to be sure the fire goes out.
What should I do if my burn starts to get out of control? Carefully assess your situation. Decide what you can do safely, and what is threatened. Consider how you are dressed, synthetic clothing melts and can cause very serious burns. Do not allow yourself to be trapped by an advancing fire. Call 911 immediately if you are unsure of your ability to control the fire. Generally, if the spreading flames are less than 3 feet high, hand tools can be used effectively. Spraying or throwing water or dirt at the base of the flames in a sweeping motion can knock a fire down and cool it. In grass, a wet gunny sack can be used to beat the flames out. If possible, scrape away burnable fuel ahead of the fire. Try to separate the fire from available fuels. If this fails to bring the burn under control, call 911 to activate the responsible fire suppression agency in your area. After calling, continue to fight the fire if you can safely, warn any threatened neighbors, and/or prepare to direct the responding firefighters to the fire location.
Need more information? I hope that this has answered some of your "burning questions" and that it will help you to burn safely, for your benefit and ours. If you have other questions please call the McCall office at 208-634-2268, or the Cascade office at 208-382-4105. Burning Permits can be obtained at the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association offices in McCall at 555 Diehard Lane and in Cascade at 810 South Main from 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. Burn Permits can also be obtained by clicking the link below or by visiting the burn permits.idaho.gov website directly. If you need help filling out your burn permit online, click the link below " step by step instructions on how to navigate through the burn permit program."
Paul Wagner Fire Warden Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association
Step by step instructions on how to navigate through the burn permit program.