March officially signals the start of spring wildfire season, and the N.C. Forest Service is urging residents to practice caution and prioritize safety when burning leaves, limbs and other yard waste.
In 2022, nearly 6,400 wildfires burned more than 27,000 acres across the state. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, North Carolina ranked third in the nation for number of human-caused wildfires with 99% of wildfires in our state resulting from human activity. Escaped outdoor fires continue to be the leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina.
“You continue to be the best defense against wildfires,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Always exercise caution with any outdoor burning. Avoid burning on dry, windy days and be sure you have a valid burn permit.”
Spring weather draws people outdoors to work in their yards and many choose burning as a method to dispose of leaves and other yard debris. March through May can be peak months for wildfire activity across the state, and fires left unattended can spread quickly. For those who choose to burn, the N.C. Forest Service recommends the following tips:
Consider alternatives to burning. Some types of debris, such as leaves, grass and stubble, may be of more value if they are not burned but used for mulch instead.
- Check local burning laws. Some communities allow burning only during specified hours. Others forbid it entirely.
- Make sure you have a valid permit. You can obtain a burn permit at any N.C. Forest Service office or authorized permitting agent, or online at gov/burnpermit.
- Keep an eye on the weather. Don’t burn on dry, windy days.
- Local fire officials can recommend a safe way to burn debris. Don’t pile vegetation on the ground. Instead, place it in a cleared area and contain it in a screened receptacle away from overhead branches and wires.
- Household trash must be hauled away to a trash or recycling station. It is illegal to burn anything other than vegetative material.
- Be sure you are fully prepared before burning. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire. Keep a phone nearby, too.
- Never use kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids to speed up debris burning.
- Stay with your fire until it is completely out.
- These same tips apply to campfires and grills as well. Douse burning charcoal briquettes or campfires thoroughly with water. Drown all embers, not just the red ones. When soaked, stir the coals and soak them again. Make sure everything is wet and that embers are cold to the touch. If you do not have water, mix enough dirt or sand with the embers to extinguish the fire, being careful not to bury the fire. Never dump hot ashes or coals into a wooded area.
- In addition to the rules above, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned when burning agricultural residue and forestland litter. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Before any burning in a wooded area, contact your NCFS county ranger for technical advice on burning.
To learn more about fire safety and preventing wildfires and loss of property, go to www.ncforestservice.gov. For information about creating defensible space and a fire-resistant landscape around your home and property, visit resistwildfirenc.org.
Philip Jackson, public information officer