Precautions Can Help Prevent Uncontrolled Burns

Writer(s): 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A controlled burn is one way to rid farmland of tree limbs, brush and other debris that’s found its way onto the area thanks to recent high winds, heavy rain and floodwaters.

But before you light that match, there are steps to take to ensure the burn is not only safe but also legal, according to Dave Torsell, an Ohio State University Extension program manager for the Agricultural Rescue and Emergency Management program. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Knowing some simple safety precautions to take before and during an open burn is critical to reduce the potential for injuries, Torsell said. While it’s important to keep areas around buildings, barns, tack sheds, implement buildings and your home free of debris, knowing what you can burn and how you can burn it is important, he said.

“Ohio has strict laws when it comes to open burning,” Torsell said. “You have to understand what can and cannot be burned. Equally important is knowing the proper location to burn.”

Before performing an open burn, it’s a good idea to learn more about the state’s open burning regulations, he said.

According to the Ohio EPA website, open burning is any set outdoor fire that doesn’t vent to a chimney or stack.

In Ohio, areas that are within a municipality have restrictions on open burns, Torsell said. One misconception is that you can call your local fire department and get permission for an open burn.

“But they cannot give you permission that is contrary to the law,” he said. “The EPA is the organization that people need to get request forms to seek permission to conduct an open burn.”

For example, inside a village or city, agricultural wastes and plant matter such as tree trimmings, stumps, brush, weeds, leaves, grass, shrubbery and material from crop or livestock production including fence posts can be burned, but must be more than 1,000 feet from a neighbor’s inhabited building, according to the Ohio EPA.

And the Ohio EPA has to be notified of the burn in advance, the agency’s website says.

Open burns of the above materials outside a village or city also have to be more than 1,000 feet from a neighbor’s inhabited building, the Ohio EPA website says. But Ohio EPA has to be notified if the pile you plan to burn is greater than 20 feet wide and 10 feet high.

In addition, open burning regulations say to consider the effects of wind.

“You’ve probably driven through smoke on a country road and may have experienced vision problems,” Torsell said. “This is one example of why people need to think about wind direction when doing an open burn.

“Smoke isn’t allowed to cross road, railroad tracks or airport.”

Torsell also cautions people to be alert when picking up debris from the burn to make sure that it doesn’t contain glass or nails, which can cause cuts or puncture wounds. Also, watch for residual chemicals in buckets or plastic containers.

“Make sure you follow the regulations for an open burn and do it safely,” he said. “If it seems unsafe, it probably is.

“Make sure you have gloves, a respirator and proper clothing to pick up debris, and keep a first aid kit handy.”

Other precautions in preventing open burns from becoming an out-of-control fire include:

  • Accumulations of brush, tree limbs, and other legal items found in storm debris should be piled in an area where it is safe to burn -- that is, away from vulnerable crops, animals and buildings that may be in the path of an out-of-control fire.
  • Never burn on a windy day.
  • Make sure the smoke does not cross roadways or blow in neighbors’ open windows.
  • Get a burn permit if one is required. You can apply online for free from the Ohio EPA at its website www.epa.ohio.gov/dapc/general/openburning.aspx.
  • Have a water source, such as a hose or a tank with a pump, ready to control any fire that moves out of the control zone.
  • Make sure that the materials you want to burn are allowed under Ohio law. For example, burning off certain grasses will require a permit.
  • Notify your local fire department. While it cannot give you permission to “open burn,” letting the department know the area where the burn is taking place can help them be prepared for the worst. If the fire does get out of hand, call early for help because fire spreads quickly.

For more information on agricultural safety issues, contact Torsell at 614-292-9455 or

torsell.5@osu.edu.

Writer(s): 
Tracy Turner
614-688-1067
For more information, contact: 

Dave Torsell
614-292- 9455
torsell.5@osu.edu