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Outdoor and Agricultural Burning

The Northwest Clean Air Agency, under the Washington Clean Air Act and the state outdoor burning and agricultural burning rules, is responsible for regulating outdoor and agricultural burning in our jurisdiction.

Although recycling, waste reduction and more environmentally sound disposal methods have reduced outdoor burning, this practice continues to be a frequent public nuisance complaint the Northwest Clean Air Agency receives.

Many people use outdoor burning as a way to dispose of unwanted materials and yard waste without understanding its risks. Breathing any type of smoke can significantly harm health, particularly among children and people with asthma, heart disease or other respiratory illnesses. Choose an alternative to outdoor burning to protect your health. And never burn garbage — it’s illegal in Washington.

Some farmers use agricultural burning to clear fields after a harvest and control pests. Permits are required for agricultural burning, but we encourage farmers to seek alternatives to burning to reduce air pollution that can harm people’s safety and health from breathing smoke-filled air.

Current Outdoor Burn Bans

Current Burn Alerts

  • Whatcom County outdoor burn ban starts July 7

  • Burn ban begins July 7 in Island County

  • Skagit County outdoor burn ban starts July 7

Lifted Burn Alerts

  • Whatcom County lifts outdoor burn ban

  • Island County OKs outdoor burning

  • Skagit County lifts ban on outdoor burning

Types of Burn Bans

Burn ban due to impaired air quality
The Northwest Clean Air Agency can call this type of burn ban when air pollutants are measured at unhealthy levels, or are rising and expected to reach unhealthy levels. Impaired air quality burn bans affect wood heating and outdoor burning. There are two stages of impaired air quality burn bans:

  • Stage I Burn Ban: No outdoor burning or burning in any uncertified wood stove or fireplace.*
  • Stage II Burn Ban: No outdoor burning or burning in any wood stove, fireplace or pellet stove.*

*Exemptions: Households with no other source of adequate heat can request an exemption from NWCAA to burn during a burn ban.

Burn ban due to dry weather conditions
This is a temporary ban on outdoor burning called by a fire official during periods of high fire danger. Call 360-428-1617 ext. 4 for current status.

Permanent outdoor burn bans
These prohibit land-clearing and residential burning of yard clippings and other vegetative debris in specific cities and their urban growth areas.

Learn more about outdoor burning

What Outdoor Burning Permits Do I Need?

Recreational fires

All recreational fires using charcoal or firewood for cooking or pleasure that are larger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high require a permit. Your fire official or city may have additional restrictions.

Residential fires

All residential fires consisting of yard and garden debris that are generated on site require a permit. Written permits are required for fires over 4 feet in diameter. Verbal permits are required for fires under 4 feet in diameter.

Land-clearing Fires

All fires consisting of trees, stumps, shrubbery, or other natural vegetation generated on site require a permit.

Silvicultural fires

These are fires on forested lands that will be replanted and remain forested. To obtain a written permit contact the Washington State Department of Natural Resources at 360-856-3500.

Other Types of Burning

The following types of fires are allowed in all areas under special circumstances with approval from the Northwest Clean Air Agency:

Who Issues Outdoor Burning Permits?

The Northwest Clean Air Agency is not the only agency that issues outdoor burning permits. Please consult the list below to know who to go to if you plan on burning.

Northwest Clean Air Agency
Issues permits for all live training fires and agricultural burning.

Cities and Fire Officials with Permitting Programs
Issue permits for recreational, residential and land-clearing fires within their jurisdictional boundaries.

County Outdoor Burning Programs
Issue permits for recreational, residential and land-clearing fires in unincorporated areas of the county.

Department of Natural Resources
Issues all silvicultural fire permits.

Outdoor Burning FAQ

If you are planning on burning outdoors, it is important to understand what you can and can’t do.

Where can I burn?

For residential and land-clearing burning, only outside urban growth areas.

What can I burn?

It is only legal to burn natural vegetation or firewood in any fire. It is illegal to burn anything else — even paper (except for the amount of paper necessary to start a fire).

When is outdoor burning a nuisance, enforceable by law?

Smoke, odor or ash that unreasonably interferes with neighbors’ use and enjoyment of their properties is illegal.

Can I burn construction and demolition debris?

No. It is illegal to burn any material resulting from a construction, renovation or demolition project. This includes any dimensional lumber, treated or otherwise.

What about off-site debris?

It is illegal to burn any material that is not generated on-site.

Can commercial businesses burn?

No burning is allowed at permanently located commercial businesses except for land-clearing operations where land-clearing burning is allowed.

What hours of the day is burning allowed?

Burning is allowed during daylight hours only, recreational fires excluded, unless otherwise permitted by the Fire Warden.

Should I take weather conditions into consideration?

Yes. Burn only during light winds that do not exceed 7 mph. Do not burn during stagnant weather conditions.

What if a burn ban is in effect?

Outdoor burning is prohibited during a burn ban (with some exceptions).

Are burn barrels legal?

No. The use of burn barrels has been prohibited statewide since 1976.

Alternatives to Burning

Instead of burning unwanted materials in an illegal fire, residents can contact waste haulers and other service providers to remove harmful waste. These organizations handle a variety of materials, from yard waste to garbage to recycling. For information about alternatives to outdoor burning or to find service providers in your area, review the information to the right.

In addition, you can also use Washington’s 1800Recycle online system to find convenient recycling opportunities near you.

Compliance

We partner with the counties in our jurisdiction to enforce outdoor burning laws, rules and regulations through the Fire Warden program.

Most outdoor burning violations outside city limits are handled by the county fire wardens, but the fire wardens can refer enforcement to the Northwest Clean Air Agency. Within city limits, the Northwest Clean Air Agency has the lead.

If you file a complaint about outdoor burning, the offending party will likely receive a letter and education materials.

Complaints

Enforcement

Washington Burn Bans

Depending on the location of the fire, the local fire warden or the Northwest Clean Air Agency may investigate and may follow up with enforcement if necessary. If the fire poses a safety risk, the local fire department will respond.

If your air quality is affected at home or work by outdoor burning, you can submit a complaint. (See below.) Because of the number of complaints we receive, we focus our responses on incidents that affect multiple people and properties. Our main objective is compliance with air quality regulations. We frequently use educational efforts to achieve this goal.

NWCAA outdoor burning regulations – section 502

Washington state regulations wac 173-425

Washington state Clean Air Act rcw 70.94

Agricultural Burning

Agricultural burning includes setting fire to:

  • Crop residue after harvest in order to reduce excess plant material and hinder pest infestations
  • Fruit tree debris from orchards after pruning or tree removal
  • Christmas tree farm tree removal
  • Tulip bulb propane “flaming”

Agricultural burning does not include any activity related to recreational marijuana businesses.  Burning of any waste from a recreational marijuana business is still strictly forbidden.

You must have an agricultural burn permit to do any agricultural burning, and then only at a legitimate farming operation (you file a Schedule F tax form).

Before you consider agricultural burning on your farm, please look into alternatives such as chipping and grinding. Also check with us first to make sure there is no burn ban or air stagnation events at the time you wish to burn.

 

Additional Resources