Residential Vegetation Debris Burning
Escaped residential debris burns continue to be a leading cause of fire suppression calls in Nevada County. Learning to safely and cleanly burn vegetation debris helps to minimize smoke emissions and allows firefighters time to respond to true emergencies. It is your responsibility to know and follow local and state burning regulations. Failure to follow these regulations is a misdemeanor offense and you may be fined and prosecuted for the expense of containing a wildfire.
Alternatives To Burning
Before you consider burning, please consider alternatives such as composting, chipping or curbside green waste pick up. The local UC Master Gardeners (530-273-0919) offers composting workshops throughout the year to make the most of your green and food waste. Waste Management operates a curbside green waste pick up. The service works well for properties in a maintenance phase. The bi-weekly green waste pickup alternates with your recycling pickup and costs less than $5.00 per month. Contact Waste Management for details at (530) 274-3090. The Fire Safe Council operates a drive by chipping service done on a donation bases and maintains a list of qualified local contractors who also perform chipping services. For complete details visit www.areyoufiresafe.com or phone (530) 272-1122.
When you’ve ruled out other alternatives and have decided to burn vegetation, please follow these guidelines for a safe and clean burn pile.
Burning is only allowed on declared burn days as regulated by the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD). To ascertain if burning is permissible on any given day, call your local burn day status number (for western Nevada County 530-274-7928 and for the Truckee area 530-582-1027.) Residential burn permits are required by Cal Fire after May 1st each year in Nevada County. Residential burn piles after permits are required should be limited to no more than four feet in width, completely surrounded by a ten foot dirt (bare mineral soil) ring. If you have large amounts to burn, create a small pile and then feed additional material into it as it burns down.
Open burn season is declared in the fall by Cal Fire once sufficient rainfall is received to reduce the fire threat. Air Pollution permits are required on a year-round basis for properties without a single or two family home, especially if that property has had a timber harvest, any kind of construction activity or is used for any agricultural purposes. Air Pollution permits may be obtained from the NSAQMD in either Grass Valley or Truckee. Call the Air District at (530) 274-9360 to obtain further information.
Current conditions dictate whether or not burning will be allowed. Be sure to call your area burn number just before lighting a pile – there have been instances where burning was suspended during the day due to changes in weather.
Dry vegetative material is the only material that may be legally burned in Nevada County. Do not burn cardboard, paper, construction wood, cans, glass, furniture, plastic, rubber, tires, motor oil, tar paper, asphalt shingles, PVC pipe, Styrofoam, insulation, paints, coatings metals or wire. These materials emit toxins and are a human health hazard. These items are examples of illegal materials to burn, but not a complete list – remember ONLY vegetation may be burned. In an effort to control dioxin emissions, the use of burn barrels has also been banned throughout the State of California.
Air district regulations require that material be burned with a minimum amount of smoke. All material must be DRY before burning. Typically, fresh cut, live material will take 3-6 weeks to completely dry. If you are working to clear your defensible space during the summer months, create your piles in a clear area, free from overhead tree canopies and cover with a tarp until burn season is open. This will allow your piles time to dry and burn cleanly, quickly and completely. Attempting to burn fresh, green material creates a smoke nuisance and doesn’t completely burn. Leaves and pine needles may be left on the ground at least 30 feet away from your structure in depths not to exceed four inches. This will provide ground cover for erosion control or mulch to help suppress new growth from sprouting. It is illegal to burn piles comprised primarily of unattached leaves or needles. The burn day number may also provide specific hours for burning for maximum smoke dispersal.
A responsible adult (over 18 years old) should be present during a residential burn. Always have a shovel or rake on hand to help manage the pile. A water hose or supply should be on hand for use in catching any stray embers that may ignite nearby dry grass or other fuels. The pile should not be left unattended at any time. The pile should be completely extinguished with water and stirred until cool. Piles left smoldering may pick up with increased winds and escape to cause a wildfire.
The City of Grass Valley, the City of Nevada City and Lake of the Pines Association have banned all residential burning in their community. Cal Fire will also ban burning during fire season, which is called by the Unit Chief, based on ground conditions. Watch for media announcements as the weather dries out.
People owning large acreage rely on burning to manage their properties in a fire safe condition. Many residents on smaller properties do not generate enough material to make burning a necessity, but rather do it for recreation. Burning may be a family tradition or social activity, but also seriously affects those with breathing difficulties. Please be considerate to your neighbors if you choose to burn. Do it safely and cleanly to minimize the effect to those around you and only after you have explored and exhausted the numerous other alternatives.