The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 24, 2003


Answers to your questions about open burning

What should you know about open burning in Massachusetts?

If you're like most Bay Staters, you'll spend a lot of your time each spring preparing your lawn and garden for the warm months ahead. A big part of your job will be cleaning up tree limbs, brush and other remnants of winter storms, and figuring out what to do with all that debris.

Burning might be the first thing that comes to your mind. While it is still allowed in most Massachusetts towns and cities, open burning has its distinct disadvantages. The combustion process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, other gases and solid substances directly into the air we breathe. And, disposal of materials is never as good for the environment as using them again in a different form. Natural debris can be chipped or composted into landscaping material.

Still, there are times when open burning is the best or only option. Even then, there are limits on what can be burned and when, as well as important public health and safety requirements.

Why are there limits on open burning in Massachusetts?

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Carlisle Fire Department limit open burning for public health and safety reasons. Open burning pollutes the air and can make it difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe. When the air is stagnant, open burning can pose smoke and odor nuisances, and health risks to nearby residents, particularly in densely populated areas. Open burning can also pose a safety risk when it is not adequately controlled. The limits on open burning do not apply to outdoor cooking.

What can be burned and under what conditions?

You may burn, with limits: brush, cane, driftwood, forestry debris, tree prunings, dead raspberry stalks, blueberry patches, infected beehives.

You may not burn: grass, hay, leaves, stumps, tires.

In most of the state's towns and cities, homeowners are allowed to burn debris between January 15 and May 1, so long as the open burning takes place:

with the permission of the local fire department;

between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.;

when the air is circulating well but winds are light;

no less than 75 feet away from all dwellings; and

on your own property and as close as possible to the source of material(s) to be burned.

Landowners are required to get a permit from the fire department before burning anything. You must call (1-978-369-1442) on each day you plan to burn to obtain permission. Permits may be obtained starting at 8 a.m. but will not be issued after 2 p.m. Burning may only take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in accordance with State regulations. All fires must be completely extinguished fully before 4 p.m. Completely extinguished means to put out so that the fire emits no smoke, heat or flames.

Outdoor cooking is allowed year-round in all communities and is not subject to open burning limits. With specific approval from DEP, local fire departments may also stage outdoor fires for purposes of fire prevention research and training.

What types of open burning are not allowed?

There are no circumstances under which it is legal to burn grass, hay, leaves, stumps or tires. They simply do not burn as "cleanly" as those materials that may legally be burned. All of them produce acrid smoke that causes nuisance conditions and threatens people's health. When tires are burned, they produce noxious gases and petroleum residue, both of which can be harmful to people and the environment. In addition, the burning of brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris from commercial or industrial land clearing is prohibited statewide.

What are the open burning guidelines?

First things first: Contact Carlisle Fire Department at 1-978-369-1442 to obtain an open burning permit.

Starting the fire: Remove all grass from the area where you will be burning. Start with a small pile and then add to it. Do not make a very large pile of brush several feet in diameter and height. This type of brush pile can be very intense and also has the potential to emit some very hot embers that can travel through the air and cause a fire some distance away. Try to start the fire with natural "kindling" — never with gasoline or charcoal lighter fluid. If you must use an artificial helper, kerosene is probably safest.

While burning: Never add brush that is green or wet. It will reduce the efficiency of the fire and produce thick smoke. Someone must attend the fire until it's completely out. You will need a hose or other supply of water and a shovel or rake for controlling the fire.

Putting the fire out: Burn the fire down to the coals, drown them with water, spread them out, and then drown them again.

Additional rules include:

A responsible adult must be in attendance during open burning at all times.

Fires may not be left unattended. Keep children away from the fire.

A suitable method of extinguishing the fire must be present such as a garden hose, rake and shovel or fire extinguisher.

A callback telephone number is required when issuing the permit and a telephone must be nearby in cases of emergency.

Property owners who violate the open burning rules may be subject to having the permit issued revoked or in some cases be denied further open burning permits.

The fire department reserves the right to suspend the issuance of open burning permits at anytime it deems necessary in the interest of public safety.


Pay careful attention to the weather prior to the day you plan to burn. Burn when there is little or no wind.

Burning when there is a snow cover on the ground provides some protection against the fire getting out of control. Likewise burning when it is raining or the ground is damp after a rain will help prevent fire spread.

Start with a small pile and add to it. Do not make a very large pile as it can easily get out of control, send hot embers into the air and cause very intense heat.

Be considerate of your neighbors and don't burn on days when the wind will carry the smoke from the fire in the direction of your neighbor's house.

Wet the ground around the fire prior to burning as a safety measure.

Always check the area where your fire was after dark and then again the next day. Wet down the ground if it is still hot.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito