News

Fire permit is required for the burning of storm debris

By Chief Dan Packer

East Pierce Fire and Rescue

Cleaning up after a windstorm takes a lot of hard work. If you are considering burning those neat piles of tree limbs, leaves and pine needles you just gathered, the fire department asks that you make sure you know the laws regulating outdoor burning before lighting a fire.

The rules can be confusing since city, county and state laws can apply, but the reasons for the rules are simple - to minimize potential fire hazards and limit the impact smoke has on the air quality.

With the exception of small, recreational fires, outdoor burning is illegal in the populated areas of the East Pierce Fire Protection District. That includes Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps and the town of South Prairie. Most residents who live to the east of 214th Avenue East are allowed to burn natural vegetation during open burning season, between Oct. 1 and May 31.

Before starting any fires, residents must obtain a permit from the fire department. Although the fire department enforces the fire regulations, they do not make the rules or fine offenders. That is the responsibility of Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, a state governmental organization.

The type of permit issued depends on the size and function of the fire. A residential fire is a controlled burning of leaves, yard waste or, in this case, tree limbs and leaves from the windstorm. The two most common permits are small residential fires of less than four feet in diameter. Fires up to ten-feet in size are considered large residential fires. Other categories include land clearing fires and agricultural burning.

Small residential fire permits are free and are issued for a thirty-day period. Permits for a large residential fire are free for the first fire and are issued for a period of 10 days. Subsequent large residential fire permits cost $50 for each 10-day renewal.

The material burned in a residential fire must originate on the owner's property. It is against the law to haul debris to another location to burn. Throughout the state of Washington, it is always illegal to use a burn barrel.

Residential fires are limited to natural vegetation only. Milled lumber is illegal to burn because treated, painted or stained wood can create toxic fumes.

It is illegal to burn garbage or refuse, cardboard or paper (except what's necessary to start the fire), building materials, rubber products, plastics, dead animals or anything that creates smoke that is harmful or offensive to neighbors. In fact, it's against the law to smoke out your neighbor. If they complain, you are required to put the fire out immediately, even if you have a permit.

Residential fires should not be built near structures such as houses, barns, sheds, fences and docks. Burn only on windless days during daylight hours. Do not use gasoline as a fire starter.

Before lighting a legal fire, the law says you must make sure there is adequate water close by if the fire gets out of hand. Never leave a fire unattended and always extinguish a fire by dousing it with water and spreading out the ashes.

Violations of outdoor burning regulations are costly. Fines can exceed $14,000 per day and typically start at $2,000 plus reimbursement costs to the fire department responses. You also can be fined for causing a nuisance and may be held financially liable for damages caused by your fire.

No burning is allowed, even with a permit, during a burn ban issued by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency or the Fire Marshal. Burning bans may be issued due to a weather-related inversion or during unusually dry conditions.

If you are still unsure about the regulations in your neighborhood, contact East Pierce Fire and Rescue at 253-863-1800 before you burn.

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