To Burn or Not to Burn
Published: 10/28/2021
Author: Chief Brent VanKeulen, Deputy Director, Western Fire Chiefs Association

We all wrestle with this dilemma every fall. Add to it the challenge of balancing the risk and reward of opening the burning of debris. There are pros and cons. Removal of dead fuel in the wildland urban interface mitigates risk. Yet, a legal burn that gets out of control can cause significant damage. There is also a balance between wet and dry fuel. If you wait too long the debris pile won’t burn, and if you open too early, you may need to close burning days later when temperatures rise. Also, your neighboring agency may open burning while you remain closed. These mixed messages often lead to a confused community. So when and how should you open burning season? The following are a few points to consider: 

Coordination - Opening and closing the season should mesh with your neighboring fire agencies, including fire districts and state forestry. 

Weather - Use long range forecasting and avoid opening due to early fall and short duration precipitation. 

Air Quality - Consider the health impacts of open burning by monitoring air quality in your area. 

Burn season challenges
For many areas, the process to obtain a burn permit is antiquated, inefficient or even non-existent. Sometimes an unexpected shift in the wind requires an immediate burn restriction that can be challenging to communicate to the community. And legal burns are often reported as actual emergency fires and smoke investigations. This means that when emergency units respond, they are no longer available for true emergencies leaving the community vulnerable. 

Streamlining the Burn Permit Process
Burn Permits App, a product of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and powered by Public Fire Safety (PFS), is an automated burn permit process that gathers critical information about the burn. Now fire departments know who is going to burn, where and when. If conditions change, a fire department can push a notification directly through the Burn Permits App making the community aware and ultimately safer. Departments also have the ability to call the permit holder directly if they receive a 911 call related to the legal burn, removing the need to respond. Additionally, the information can be shared with mutual aid departments. Currently, several Oregon fire departments are successfully using this technology to streamline their burn permit processes. According to Julie Spor, President of the Oregon Fire Service Office Administrators and Executive Assistant in Sister-Camp Sherman Fire District, “The online burn process saves staff time, is easy for the public to use and makes our community safer.” 

To learn more about the Burn Permits App or how your department can increase its situational awareness, visit where you can request more information.


Burn Permits App, brought to you by the Western Fire Chiefs Association. from video on Vimeo.

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