Fire season is upon us, and it’s the time of year when defensible space should be first and foremost on your mind during spring cleaning. While some people opt to hire a landscaping company to handle yard waste cleaning and removal, many a homeowner takes a do-it-yourself approach and handles the defensible space of their own property. If Joe Homeowner doesn’t have the capability of hauling debris to the dump or perhaps was too late and missed the boat on reserving a green waste dumpster, burning is another option — conditions permitting, of course.

“Burning green waste debris can be an easier and less expensive way to get rid of fire fuels around your home,” Truckee Fire Chief Bill Seline wrote in an email to Moonshine Ink. “Only dry vegetation can be burned, no household trash or construction debris.”

According to the California Air Resources Board, household trash often contains synthetic materials that create dangerous chemicals when burned. “These chemicals include dioxins, benzene, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and other compounds that are known to cause respiratory ailments, stress human immune systems, and are potentially carcinogenic,” states the CARB website. That means you can only burn pine needles, pinecones, twigs, branches, and leaves.

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The good news is that it’s easier than ever to obtain a free burn permit. You can do so online at burnpermit.fire.ca.gov. The bad news: Time is ticking and burn season is quickly drawing to a close. According to Seline, it typically runs November through June — or until Cal Fire reinstates the area’s burn suspension, based on regional fire conditions.

“Burning could be suspended earlier this year with the anticipated drought conditions,” he noted, but as of this writing, burning was still permitted. By the time you read this, however, things may have changed so be sure to confirm online before setting any piles on fire.

Prior to burning debris, those with permits who are planning to burn yard waste are required to call (530) 582-1027 to find out if it’s a “burn day” before igniting. The local Air Quality Management District decides what days are “permissive” burn days, Seline explained. Such days typically have light winds to move the smoke out of the area, but not too much wind, creating a situation in which a fire could escape.

The average homeowner requires a door-yard permit, which allows for burning of small piles of vegetation no bigger than 4 feet by 4 feet. For larger amounts, individuals can contact the fire district and discuss the possibility of burning under a separate project burn permit. These are intended for large properties and typically involve oversight from CalFire or a licensed timber operator, Truckee Fire Marshall Kevin McKechnie said.

As burn season winds down and fire season kicks in, there are plenty of other alternative ways to remove green waste, such as chipping, composting, mulching, curbside collection, or hauling it to the dump oneself. “The most important thing is to create defensible space and remove dead and overgrown vegetation,” Seline emphasized.

Ready to burn?

Follow these guidelines from Cal Fire

For burning debris in small 4-foot-by-4-foot piles:

  • Maximum pile size is 4 feet
  • Clear all flammable material and vegetation within 10 feet of the outer edge of the pile and down to the bare earth.
  • Keep a water supply close to the burning site.
  • An adult should be in attendance with a shovel until the fire is out.
  • No burning should be undertaken unless weather conditions (particularly wind) are such that burning can be considered safe.

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