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Before a Wildfire

Don't burn dangerous things

  • Never burn pressurized containers such as spray cans. They may explode.
  • Never put glass in a fire. Glass does not melt away; it only heats up and shatters, leaving dangerous slivers.
  • Don’t put aluminum cans in a fire. They do not burn. In fact, the aluminum only breaks down into smaller pieces and produces dust that can be harmful to breath.

REMEMBER: If what’s left of smoke or fire is too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!


  • Use vehicle ashtrays or other receptacles that are specifically designed for smoking materials. Do not drop lit cigarettes, cigars, matches, or pipe tobacco on the ground.
  • Never drop smoking materials onto brush, leaves, or areas that have been mulched.
  • Do not smoke while riding or walking a horse or a bike because you never know where the ash will land.
  • If necessary, grind out your cigarette, cigar, or pipe tobacco in the dirt – never on a stump or log – and carry out the butts.


  • Clear a 10-foot area around a barbecue. Especially in wilderness areas, it is best to cover the grill with non-flammable mesh, 3/4 inch or finer.
  • When disposing of briquettes and ash outside, drown them with lots of water, stir well, and soak again. Be sure they are out cold!
  • Whenever possible, place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak them in water for two days, then bury them in the ground.


  • When picking a spot for a campfire, do not build a fire where it is too dry or windy or where campfires are prohibited. When permitted, choose a spot that is protected from gusts, and at least 15 feet from your tent and gear. Clear a 10-foot diameter area around the spot. Remove any grass, twigs, leaves and firewood. Make sure there is nothing flammable overhead like tree limbs. If there isn’t already a pit, make one.
  • When making campfire pit, dig a hole in the ground, about a foot deep. Circle the pit with rocks. Place your unused firewood upwind and away from the fire. Keep a bucket of water and a shovel handy nearby. When you are ready to start the fire, wait until the match is cold, and discard it in the fire. Keep the fire to a manageable size. Make sure children and pets are supervised. Never leave the fire unattended.
  • When you are ready to extinguish the campfire, if possible allow the wood to burn completely to ash. Pour lots of water on the fire until hissing sound stops. Drown all embers, not just the red ones. Scrape remaining sticks and logs to remove any embers. Stir embers and ashes with a shovel, and make sure that they are wet and cold to the touch. If you do not have water, use an ample supply of dirt or sand. Continue adding dirt or sand and stirring until all material is cool. Remember: do not simply bury the fire because it will continue to smolder and could ignite roots will eventually spread fire to the surface.

Burning debris

  • Comply with local regulations: Contact the local fire department well in advance to find out if burning is allowed or if a permit is required.
  • Keep it legal. It is illegal to burn most synthetic waste, such as tires or plastics.
  • Check the weather forecast. Call the local fire department on the day that you plan to burn to confirm that the fire danger level is low enough. Weather such as gusty winds could unleash a wildfire.
  • Choose a safe site. A safe site will be far away from power lines, overhanging limbs, buildings, automobiles, and equipment. Vertical clearance must be at least three times the height of the pile. Heat rises far above visible flames. Horizontal clearance must be at least twice the height of the debris pile.
  • Prepare the site correctly. The ground around the burn site should be surrounded by gravel or bare dirt for at least ten feet in all directions. During the burn, keep the area watered down.
  • If using a burn barrel, make sure it is properly equipped. Burn Barrels must all-metal, in good condition (free of rust on the sides or bottom), and properly ventilated. The Burn Barrel must be properly vented, for example, with three evenly-spaced, three-inch square vents around the rim near ground level. Each vent must be backed by a metal screen. A Burn Barrel must have a metal top screen with mesh size of ¼-inch or finer to keep sparks from escaping and potentially igniting a wildfire. When burning, layer the different types of debris and stir often. Beware of sparks escaping when the fire is stirred.
  • Stay on-site, tending your fire until you’re sure it’s completely out. To ensure it has been completely extinguished, drown the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel, and drown it again. Repeat several times. Check the burn area regularly over the next several days and up to several weeks following the burn, especially, if the weather is warm, dry, and windy.

Preparing your home

  • Talk with members of your household about how to prevent wildfires and what to do if one threatens your home.
  • Learn about hazards in your area.
  • Post emergency phone numbers by every phone.
  • Make sure driveways and entrances clearly display your address.
  • Maintain a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Test them monthly, and change batteries at least once each year.
  • Plan and practice evacuation.
  • Design and landscape with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it. Use fire resistant or non-combustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling. For example, treat combustible roof, siding, decking or trim with UL-approved fire-retardant chemicals. Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than evergreens. Regularly clean roofs and gutters. Use only well-maintained, UL-approved wood-burning devices.
  • Inspect chimneys at least twice a year, and clean them at least once a year.
  • Keep dampers in good working order.
  • Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets local code. Contact the local fire department for exact specifications, such as National Fire Protection Association Code 211.
  • Maintain 1/2-inch mesh screen beneath decks and floors in the home itself as well as attic openings. Consider adding protective shutters, heavy fire-resistant drapes, and a portable gasoline-powered pump, in case electrical power is cut off. Prepare to handle small fires before emergency responders arrive.
  • Keep tools handy that can be used to fight fire: a ladder that will reach the roof, a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket, and shovel.
  • Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Consider adding outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Create a safety zone around your home.
  • Within 30 to 100 feet (100 feet or more in pine forest), reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Note: Standard protective measures may not suffice on a steep slope. Contact the local fire department or forestry of fire for additional information.
  • Regularly, safely and legally recycle or dispose of waste off-site.
  • Clear away flammable trash and vegetation, such as leaves and twigs.
  • Remove dead branches that overhang the roof.
  • Remove vines from exterior walls.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Prune branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet of the stack.

Maintaining grounds

  • Keep an eye on mulch beds, especially on dry afternoons, when fires are more likely to occur. Maintain a safe place to discard smoking materials, especially entrances to public buildings and in designated smoking areas. Do not use mulch in or near these areas. Provide at least 18-inch clearance between landscaping mulch beds and combustible building materials as well as electric devices, such as decorative lights. Insofar as possible, keep landscaping mulch moist, and consider substitutes, such as stones or crushed rock. Sparks from lawnmowers and power equipment DO start wildfires.
  • Check equipment regularly.
  • Be especially careful on hot, dry days.
  • Maintain spark arrestors. They destroy or trap hot particles of carbon in engine exhaust, greatly reducing the risk of starting a wildfire.

For more information on wildfires, see: