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As the temperature rises each year, so do the risks associated with outdoor fires. In spring, the risks mainly come from brush fires (either in the wild or related to folks burning yard debris after spring cleaning). In summer, barbeques, bonfires, and campfires become a more significant part of the action.

Here are some reminders about how you can cut down the risk of outdoor fires getting out of control:

When out in the woods

  • Avoid open fires during April and May, when there's still plenty of fire fuel lying around in the form of dead grasses and brush: these items can ignite easily and spread in an instant.
  • Likewise, be careful with any kind of flame or ignition source: matches, cigarettes, ashes, etc. It takes only a single spark to start a deadly wildfire.

When making a burn pile in your yard

  • Before you light it up, call your local forest fire warden for a burn permit, and ask if there are any special instructions for burns in your community.
  • Wait for the right day to burn. There should be little to no wind and it shouldn't be too dry.
  • Burn only limbs and branches, untreated wood, and certain grasses or natural materials. Treated woods and certain poisonous plants can give off dangerous fumes.
  • Never burn trash. It's bad for you. It's bad for the environment. And it's illegal.

When having a BBQ or bonfire

  • Use lighter fluid only sparingly, and keep the container well away from the flames.
  • Once you're done with the barbeque, let the fire go out completely and wait until the coals are cool to the touch, then transfer the coals and ashes to a covered metal container. Leave it in a safe place outside until it's completely cooled off and out. As with woodstove ashes, this can take up to a week!  

When working with any kind of outdoor fire

  • Check with your fire warden before you burn to see whether it's legal and safe. There may be a burning ban in place if general weather trends create dangerously dry conditions (say, after a snowless winter like 2015-16).
  • Don't have any kind of outdoor fire on a windy day or in dry conditions.
  • Clear the ground of flammable material for at least 10 feet around your fire or barbeque.
  • Never locate an open fire within 50 feet of any structure, and give yourself at least 10 or more feet for a barbeque.
  • Have fire tools and a water supply available before you light anything.
  • Have an adult present at all times, and keep pets and children away from the fire.
  • If you must use lighter fluid, use only fluids intended for that purpose. Never throw gas or similar fuels onto a fire!

This article was adapted from the April 2009 newsletter of the VT Division of Fire Safety.

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