Learn what is safe and legal to burn outdoors

Michigan residents are urged to exercise caution when burning outdoors and to make sure that when and what they are burning complies with state laws and local ordinances.

Currently, Michigan residents may burn solid waste from a one- or two-family dwelling in an approved home incinerator, as long as it is not prohibited by local ordinance and does not create a smoke or odor nuisance.

The incinerator must be constructed of metal or masonry with a well-fitted cover that has openings no larger than ¾-inch. It is further recommended that the burner rest on non-flammable material that extends out 3 feet in all directions. Vegetation should be cleared in a 10-foot circle around the burn barrel. If you choose to burn stay with the fire until it is out. Dousing the ashes with water to ensure it is completely out is highly recommended. Burning shortly after a rainfall or in the evening is the safest while burning on windy days or during periods of dry weather is not advisable. If you choose to burn, know and respect the current fire and weather conditions in your area.

A major problem with burning household trash is that it has changed in volume and composition in the past 40 years. Waste today includes treated paper, plastics, foam, metals and other man-made materials. Burn barrels do not provide good combustion of household waste. Furthermore, the smoke emitted when the above items are burned consists of a number of chemicals that can be irritating or harmful, including dioxins, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, furans, PCBs, lead, mercury and arsenic. These contaminants can have both long- and short-term health effects on exposed people, especially small children, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

When Michigan’s open burn rules were first implemented several decades ago, many Michigan residents did not have access to waste disposal services and trash burning was the only practical disposal option. Composting yard waste and recycling household waste are affordable alternatives that are readily available today for most Michigan residents. These alternatives also have the advantage of having environmental and health benefits.

Though residents can burn household waste as well as have cooking fires or campfires in approved containers without a burn permit, a permit must be obtained for burning of yard waste unless there is continuous snow cover adjacent to your fire. This includes tree limbs, brush, stumps, evergreen needles, leaves and grass. Burning these items is not allowed within 1400 feet of a city or village under Michigan Department of Environmental Quality air quality rules. In general, state laws allow burning of leaves and grass clippings in municipalities of less than 7500 people. However, local ordinances might be stricter so residents should always check with their local authorities before doing any burning. Construction materials, demolition debris, and automotive parts may never be burned outdoors due to air quality regulations.

To learn more about the Michigan burn laws and rules, check with your local fire department, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources office in your area, or visit the MDNR website. For daily updates about burn conditions in your area and whether burning is currently allowed, visit www.michigan.gov/burnpermit.

Author’s Contact Information: Elaine M. Bush, Michigan Firewise Communities project director, Manistee County MSUE, bushe@msu.edu, 231-889-4277 ext. 11 

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