It’s hot, it’s dry, and it’s summer. This weather creates the perfect opportunity for camping adventures, fishing trips, and…the daily yard maintenance. Although summer brings some of the greatest opportunities for outdoor fun, it brings with it the responsibility of yard care and the maintenance of anything that grows on your property.
This brings us to our dilemma: what is the best method for taking care of the brush, leaves, and other wastes that come from our own back yards? Is burning everything an option? Is it the best option? How do I ensure that I am doing it safely when the area is dry and potentially flammable? These are all questions that we need to answer before we light the first match.
Although this can be debated, there are some general guidelines that will help you make this decision. The first question you have to answer is: “can I recycle this?” If so, you will want to do this instead of burning to ensure the safety of the environment.
The next question to answer is: “does this material burn easily?” This is an easy answer for some things, such as pop cans and other types of metal and aluminum, but what about plastics and other man-made materials? If you are unsure, do the research before deciding to test it. Trial and error is not a good strategy, because this is how people get hurt and pollution levels rise.
Fortunately, Ohio is relatively lax on their regulations of open burning in comparison to other states. When first reading the regulations on the site they can be somewhat difficult to understand, we summarize the main points here:
1. Garbage burning is not allowed. The definition of “garbage” is: “any wastes created in the process of handling, preparing, cooking or consuming food.” Basically anything that will not burn well would fit into this category: food waste, foils, certain plastics, etc.
2. Burning “residential waste” is allowed…well sort of at least. Everything included in this category is only permissible outside of city limits. (We will discuss what you are allowed to burn within city limits below.) Items in this category include: Plant matter such as tree trimmings, stumps, brush, weeds, leaves, grass, shrubbery and crop residues. Also wastes such as wood or paper products that are generated by one-, two-, or three-family residences. A few other caveats to take into consideration are: the fire must be more than 1,000 feet from neighbor’s inhabited building. Also, you must request permission from Ohio EPA if pile is greater than 10 ft. x 10 ft. x 10 ft. It may take two weeks to obtain the permit.
There are still a lot of options for those who live within city limits, although you will want to be very careful whenever you do decide to burn anything on your property. The rules below also apply to those living outside of city limits.
1. Campfires and cookouts are allowed, but they cannot exceed a wood stack larger than 2 ft. high x 3 ft. wide. You must also use clean, seasoned firewood or equivalent.
2. You may also choose to burn your agricultural waste. This includes: tree trimmings, stumps, brush, weeds, leaves, grass, shrubbery and material from crop or livestock production, fence posts and scrap lumber. It does not include: buildings, land clearing waste, dead animals or animal waste.
3. Occupational fires are allowed both within and outside of city limits. Occupational fires are generally used by those who work outside in a cold climate and use these fires to keep them warm. Make sure that you use a 55-gallon drum and seasoned firewood, especially when close to other houses or buildings. This will ensure that you keep the pollution down and ensure that the fire is well contained.
If you have further questions that do not fit into any of these categories, you can check this resource from EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for further answers. You can also contact the EPA by calling them at this number: (614) 644-2270.
Now that you know what you are allowed to burn depending on where you live, we need to establish some fire safety tips to keep in mind as you are doing it.
1. Keep the fire small. If you have a lot to burn, then add small amounts to the fire instead of creating a huge pile from the start. The greater the size of the fire, the less control you will have and the greater the potential for something to go wrong.
2. Keep the fire at least 15 feet away from anything that could catch on fire. This includes things like trees, dry grasses, and buildings. It goes without saying that you will want to create zero opportunity for the fire to spread.
3. Create a barrier for the fire to stay within. Lining the fire pit with rocks, a 55-gallon drum, or a row of cement blocks are all great ways to accomplish this.
4. Do not start the fire with gasoline. We all know that gas is very flammable, but it is also extremely dangerous. If you are lacking in the Boy Scout skills, the best option is to get a starter log. This will ignite easily and stay lit so that your other logs will have time to catch fire as well.
5. Do not start a fire in windy conditions. Dry and windy conditions are a recipe for disaster and are usually the drivers of forest fires
6. Attend the fire at all times. This one seems obvious, but needs to be said. The majority of fires that have gotten out of control were not being watched close enough when it happened.
The number one thing to take from this article is this one rule: be cautious and safe when burning anything on your property. Take the time to think through what the potential dangers of starting a fire in your backyard will cause. This alone will help you decide what you will need to keep the fire controlled at all times and ensure that you are operating within the boundaries of the EPA in Ohio.