Skip to Content

Escaped debris burns are a top cause of wildfires; ODF has tips on doing so safely

KTVZ file

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Oregon Department of Forestry and other fire prevention experts urge the public to exercise caution when disposing of yard debris this spring. Over seventy percent of wildfires in Oregon are human-caused fires, with debris burning being the number one cause. As the weather gets hotter and fuels begin to dry out, the risk of a debris burn escaping increases. 

Now is the time to trim trees, bushes, and tidy up plants around your home to create a “defensible space” around your property. As you begin spring clean-up, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Keep Oregon Green urge you to put some extra thought into how you plan to dispose of your yard debris.

Call your local ODF office before burning to make sure the weather conditions are safe. You can also cover a part of the pile with plastic to keep it dry until the rainy fall and winter seasons when it’s safer to burn. Delaying your burn plans will give the debris more time to cure and avoid spring holdover fires as fire risk increases with hotter, drier weather. 

By choosing alternative disposal methods, or burning under safe conditions outside of fire season, Oregonians can significantly reduce the risk of creating a large wildfire. Remember, debris burning requires a permit or is prohibited in most areas during fire season.

If burning now is the only option to dispose of yard debris, fire prevention specialists ask people to follow safe burning practices. 

  • Call before you burn –  Burning regulations vary by location depending on the weather and fuel conditions. If you are planning to burn, check with your local ODF district, fire protective association, fire department, or air protection authority to learn about current burning restrictions or regulations, and if you need a permit.
  • Know the weather – Burn early in the day and never burn on dry or windy days, because fires can spread out of control more easily.
  • Always have water and fire tools nearby – When burning, have a charged water hose or a bucket of water, and shovel on hand to put out the fire. Drown the pile with water, stir the coals, and drown again, repeating until the fire is cold to the touch.
  • Clear a 10-foot fuel-free buffer around the pile – Make sure there are no tree branches or power lines above.
  • Keep burn piles small – Large burn piles can cast hot embers long distances. Keep piles small, maximum of four feet by four feet. Add debris to the pile in small amounts as the pile burns.
  • Burn only yard debris – State laws prohibit burning materials or trash that create dense smoke or noxious odors.
  • Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids to start or speed up your fire.
  • Stay with the fire until it is cold – NEVER leave your debris burn unattended. State law requires monitoring of debris burn piles from start to finish until it is out cold. This law is intended to ensure sparks or embers that jump from the fire can be put out quickly.
  • Go back and check burn piles. They can retain heat for several weeks and restart when the weather warms up and winds blow.
  • Costs of run-away debris burns– State law requires the proper clearing, building, attending and extinguishing of open fires all year. If your debris burn spreads out of control, you may have to pay for suppression costs, as well as the damage to your neighbors’ properties, which can be extremely expensive.

More tips on wildfire prevention, including campfire safety, motorized equipment use, and fire-resistant landscaping can be found on the Keep Oregon Green website. Find public use restrictions for Oregon Department of Forestry protected lands before your burn.

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert

Jump to comments ↓

KTVZ news sources


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content