To Burn or Not to Burn - That is the Question

ARI News - February/March 2014

The State of Indiana has regulations (326 IAC 4) that establish standards for open burning.  This regulation defines open burning as “the burning of any materials wherein air contaminants resulting from combustion are emitted directly into the air, without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber.”  The regulations that prohibit open burning are designed to prevent pollution problems, threats to public health, nuisances and fire hazards.  During meteorological conditions such as high winds, temperature inversions, air stagnation, pollution alerts or ozone action days no burning should be conducted.  The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) encourages persons to evaluate possible alternatives to burning such as material reuse or resale.  It is discouraged to use fires as a means of disposal. 

There are a number of applications where open burning is permitted for maintenance. These applications include the burning of vegetation from farms, orchards, nurseries, tree farms, other agricultural land, cemeteries and drainage ditches. Burning materials from roadside and public utility right-of-ways is permitted. In some cases open burning is permitted to eliminate undesirable wood structures and wood remnants of demolition activities. Burning houses for the purposes is permitted for fire fighter training and there are strict rules and a permit process that precedes this activity. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and other governmental agencies are permitted to burn in support of wildlife habitat maintenance, forestry purposes, natural area management and for firefighting or prevention. These agencies are also subject to the prohibitions against pollution problems, threats to public health, nuisances and fire hazards. Open burning is allowed in applications like ceremonies, campfires, for scouting activities and for cooking. These fires may only burn clean wood products, meaning vegetation or wood that is not coated (stained, painted, gluey or any other chemical coating material). The allowable burn materials also include paper, charcoal and clean petroleum products. There are size restrictions for fires of this nature and the local fire department should be notified at least 24 hours before the burn commences. The size, date, time and location of the burning activity should be reported to the fire department. The pile should be ignited less than two hours before the ceremony or recreational activity begins and should be extinguished at the conclusion of the gathering. Fires are allowed on residential properties with less than four dwellings – not in the case of condominiums, apartment complexes or mobile home parks. Residential fires must be maintained inside a noncombustible container with sufficient venting, enclosed sides and an enclosed bottom. Burning is also allowed in heating applications as long as only clean wood products and paper are burned and the fire is contained inside a noncombustible container with proper venting. Burning for heat is only permitted during the time between October 1 and May 15. No fires are allowed within 500 feet of fuel storage areas or gas pipelines. Open burning on salvage yards or automotive recycling facilities is not specifically prohibited by the regulation; however, it does not fit one of the categories defined as allowable. 326 IAC 4-1-5 called Liability for Fire states “Any person who allows the accumulation or existence of combustible material which constitutes or contributes to a fire causing air pollution may not refute liability for violation of this rule on the basis that said fire was set by vandals, accidental or an act of God.” This means that if there are brush piles, tire piles or accumulations of other combustible materials stored on your yard and the delinquent neighbor kids light it on fire, you are responsible. If the pile is struck by lightning, you are responsible. If you are burning in a burn barrel and a spark hits a tire pile and it ignites, you are responsible. Not only are you responsible for the potential damage the fire causes, but you are responsible for the air pollution resulting from the fire.