There has been an uptick in the number of complaints during the last week due to the change in season regarding open burning and with generated smoke from burning operations.
We were dispatched the other evening on a reported structure fire for a burn taking place in the backyard at night with embers shooting up in the air. This was an unauthorized burn that could have had big consequences.
There can be some confusion on what is considered slash, agricultural burning and open (backyard) burning. In general, burning should only be considered after other alternatives are first tried: recycling, chipping and removal to composting operations.
If there is no alternative, then burn piles should be as dry as possible (covered before burning to prevent getting wet) and burned in smaller piles to generate heat quickly so as to reduce the amount of smoke produced.
Burning should take place only when conditions are favorable to prevent a smoke inversion (the Department of Environmental Quality manages burning hours for this reason). Garbage and trash should never be burned (a list of prohibited items is listed on our website). We have discovered that many complaints of smoke come from piles with hidden plastics, metal or treated/decayed wood that generates noxious smoke.
There are four types of burning: Open (also known as backyard), slash, agricultural and recreational.
Open (backyard) fires are permitted through Philomath Fire and Rescue and regulated by the DEQ for permissible hours. There are two open burn seasons: March 1-June 15 and Oct. 1-Dec. 15. Sometimes the season starts late or ends earlier due to fire conditions.
Burning can only take place in the allowable hours (the piles must be at or near the end of being consumed by fire by the end of burning hours — this is why we recommend smaller piles to better manage this). Hours are posted on the DEQ website and we also record that information on our Burn Line at 541-929-5903.
Philomath Fire does not manage smoke complaints as we are not an enforcement agency. Smoke complaints are managed by the DEQ through their complaint line: 888-997-7888. Property owners may be fined for burning violations by the DEQ. According to the DEQ website: “Open burning violations may result in fines of up to $12,000 per day of violation.”
Slash piles are managed and permitted by the Oregon Department of Forestry — who notifies Philomath Fire of permitted fires. These fires may be allowed to burn for multiple days, including overnight (though never permitted to start after dusk/before dawn).
Slash is the result of active timber harvest operations of a certain size; timber owners must both register their operation and also apply for permits to burn with ODF stating the day and times as well as the amount to be burned (in tons). ODF takes into consideration the DEQ information when setting the permit. Piles that do not meet that criteria are considered open (backyard) burns. These burns must be permitted through Philomath Fire and are subject to the DEQ restrictions.
Agricultural burning is managed and permitted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and is generally limited to seed grass and certain industrial farming. Philomath Fire does not manage these burn operations. Piles that do not meet that criteria are considered open (backyard) burns. These burns must be permitted through Philomath Fire and are subject to the DEQ restrictions.
A recreational fire is a fire at your residence that is used for the purpose of cooking, warming or similar recreation. These fires are built from seasoned, dry wood or charcoal and contained in fire pits. A permit is required for recreational fires and may be issued for the year.
Recreational fires are not subject to DEQ burn hours, though a fire should not produce a lot of smoke, and care should be taken in high temperature and windy conditions. Recreational fires are restricted during extreme fire danger — only fires in a gas-fired BBQ are allowed.
Permits for open burning and recreational fires may be obtained by going to Philomath’s Burn Information page. Folks that live in Blodgett or Kings Valley can also use this site for their fire districts (there are separate links to each agency). People who don’t have internet access can call our office at 541-360-0030 to submit a permit.
Permits for Recreational fires can be obtained for the year (January-December) and open burn permits can be obtained for a season (March 1-June 15 and/or Oct. 1-Dec. 15). When using a seasonal permit — burn hours should be obtained each day of burning — some days are no-burn days. When obtaining a permit for a day, check the burn hours first before submitting a permit. Burn hours are generally available by 8 a.m.
Our website goes into further detail about each type of permitted fires and has links to ODF and the DEQ Smoke Information website (for daily burn hours during burning season). Questions can also be answered by calling our staff at 541-360-0030 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.).
(Rich Saalsaa is the deputy fire chief at Philomath Fire and Rescue. He can be reached at Rich.Saalsaa@philomathfire.com).