As we head into fall wildfire season in North Carolina, the N.C. Forest Service and the USDA Forest Service urge visitors and North Carolinians to be cautious with campfires and when burning yard debris.
In North Carolina, the fall wildfire season typically lasts from mid-October until mid-December, the time of year when people do yard work that may include burning leaves and yard debris. The leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina is debris burning. When left unattended, debris fires can escape and start wildfires.
“As leaves begin to fall and vegetation starts to dry out, it’s important for all North Carolinians to use extreme caution when burning debris of any kind,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “As wildfires continue to rage in Western states and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a challenge, let’s remember that we’re not powerless. Our best defense against wildfires starts at home. Following simple prevention tips and taking action around your home can reduce the risk that a wildfire affects you, your loved ones, your neighbors and your communities.”
There are many factors to consider before burning debris. The N.C. Forest Service encourages residents to contact their local county forest ranger before burning debris. The ranger can offer technical advice and explain the best options to help ensure the safety of people, property and the forest. To find contact information for your local county ranger, visit https://www.ncforestservice.gov/contacts.
For people who choose to burn debris, the N.C. Forest Service offers the following tips to protect property and prevent wildfires:
- Consider alternatives to burning. Some types of debris, such as leaves, grass and stubble, may be of more value if they are not burned, but used for mulch instead.
- Check local burning laws. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours. Others forbid it entirely.
- Make sure you have a valid permit. You can obtain a burn permit at any authorized permitting agent open for business or online at https://www.ncforestservice.gov/burnpermit.
- Local fire officials can recommend a safe way to burn debris. Don’t pile vegetation on the ground. Instead, place it in a cleared area and contain it in a screened receptacle away from overhead branches and wires. Keep your pile small, not tall.
- Stay informed about the weather and possible weather changes. Postpone outdoor burning during high winds or gusts, or periods of low relative humidity. Even if you have a valid permit, stop burning if strong winds develop.
- Household trash should be hauled away to a trash or recycling station. It is illegal to burn anything other than yard debris.
- Be sure you are fully prepared before burning. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire. Keep a phone nearby, too.
- Never use kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids to speed up debris burning.
- Stay with your fire until it is completely out.
- Burning agricultural residue and forestland litter: In addition to the rules above, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Before doing any burning in a wooded area, contact your county ranger, who will weigh all factors, explain them and offer technical advice.
- Defensible space around your home is important. Clear debris from your roof and gutters. Store firewood and other combustible items at least 30 feet from your home and uphill if possible. For more information and tips to help create a defensible space around your home and protect your property from wildfire, visit www.resistwildfirenc.org.
The USDA Forest Service also reminds campers to be cautious when burning campfires. Use existing fire rings if possible and clear a safe area around them of at least 15 feet. Never leave campfires unattended, and ensure they are completely out before leaving.
The USDA Forest Service offers the following guidelines for safely extinguishing campfires and helping to prevent wildfires:
- Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.
- Pour lots of water on the fire, drown ALL embers, not just the red ones.
- Pour until the hissing sound stops.
- Stir campfire ashes and embers with a shovel.
- Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers.
- Stir and make sure everything is wet and that embers are cold to the touch.
- If you do not have water, use dirt. Pour dirt or sand on the fire, mixing enough dirt or sand with the embers to extinguish the fire.
- Continue adding or stirring until all remaining material is cool.
- Do NOT bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.
“Always exercise caution with any outdoor burning. Even when burn bans are not in effect, weather conditions may not be favorable for outdoor fires,” Troxler said. Outdoor burning is discouraged during periods of low humidity or high winds.
Studies have shown that taking these and other measures can reduce the possibility of wildfires. To learn more about fire safety and preventing wildfires and loss of property, visit www.ncforestservice.gov and www.smokeybear.com.