Run-away debris burning leads human-caused wildfires

11 May 2021

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USA – Fire departments and prevention groups urge everyone to dispose of yard debris, rather than burn it. This year’s warm and dry conditions have already caused fires to burn many acres quickly. Rather than burning yard debris, you can help prevent wildfires by chipping or recycling it.

The Oregon Department of Forestry has declared fire season for parts of the state. This year, about 180 fires have already burned about 1,900 acres. April’s dry, warm conditions prompted some countywide burn bans.

May is Wildfire Awareness Month. This is a great time to trim trees and tidy up bushes and plants around your home that could easily catch fire. This is especially true after this winter’s ice storm. Because of the dry weather, as you begin spring cleanup, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Keep Oregon Green urge you to consider alternatives to burning.

“The time to safely burn yard debris has passed,” said Keep Oregon Green President Kristin Babbs. “Waiting until next fall or winter after heavy rains prevents piles burned this spring from re-starting during the heat of the summer. Burn piles can hold heat for several weeks and start again under warm, windy conditions.”

Babbs said delaying your burn plans would give the debris more time to cure. You can cover a part of the pile with plastic to keep it dry until it’s safe to burn.

If burning now is the only option to dispose of yard debris, fire prevention specialists ask people to follow safe burning practices. The following tips can help stop run-away burn piles:

• Call before you burn – Burning regulations vary by location depending on the weather and fuel conditions. If you are planning to burn, check with your local Oregon Department of Forestry district, fire protective association, or air protection authority to learn about current burning restrictions or regulations, and if you need a permit.

• Know the weather – Never burn on dry or windy days, because fires can spread out of control more easily.

• Clear a 10-foot buffer – Make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above or fuels around your pile.

• Keep burn piles small – Large burn piles can cast hot embers long distances. Use small piles, maximum of four feet by four feet. Add only a little debris as the pile burns, to keep it small.

• Always have water and fire tools nearby – When burning, have a water hose on and ready or a bucket of water, and shovel and dirt to put out the fire. Drown the pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again, repeating until the fire is out cold.

• Stay with the fire until it is out cold – State laws requires monitoring of debris burn from start to finish until it is out cold. This law is intended to ensure sparks or embers that jump from the fire can be put out quickly. Recheck burn piles. They can retain heat for several weeks and restart when the weather warms up and winds blow.

• Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids to start or speed up your fire. Every year, about 60 percent of the Oregon Burn Center cases are from yard debris burning.

• Only burn yard debris – State laws prohibit burning materials in the open that create dense smoke or noxious odors.

• Costs of run-away debris burns– State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires all year. Citations can cost $2,000. If your debris burn spreads out of control, you will have to pay for putting the fire out, and likely the damage to your neighbors’ properties. This can be extremely expensive.

More tips on wildfire prevention, including campfire safety, motorized equipment use, and fire-resistant landscaping can be found on the Keep Oregon Green site, Find public use restrictions for Oregon Department of Forestry protected lands here:

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