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Staying Safe While Burning Yard Debris

In North Carolina, the fall wildfire season typically lasts from mid-October until mid-December, the time of year when people do yard work that may include burning leaves and yard debris. The leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina is debris burning. When left unattended, debris fires can escape and start wildfires.

“As leaves begin to fall and vegetation starts to dry out, it’s important for all North Carolinians to use extreme caution when burning debris of any kind,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Our best defense against wildfires starts at home. Following simple prevention tips and taking action around your home can reduce the risk that a wildfire affects you, your loved ones, your neighbors and your communities.”

There are many factors to consider before burning debris. The N.C. Forest Service encourages residents to contact their local county forest ranger before burning debris. The ranger can offer technical advice and explain the best options to help ensure the safety of people, property and the forest. To find contact information for your local county ranger, visit

For people who choose to burn debris, the N.C. Forest Service offers the following tips to protect property and prevent wildfires:

  • Consider alternatives to burning. Some types of debris, such as leaves, grass and stubble, may be of more value if they are not burned, but used for mulch instead.

  • Check local burning laws. Some communities allow burning only during specific hours. Others forbid it entirely.

  • Make sure you have a valid permit. You can obtain a burn permit at any authorized permitting agent open for business or online at

  • Local fire officials can recommend a safe way to burn debris. Don’t pile vegetation on the ground. Instead, place it in a cleared area and contain it in a screened receptacle away from overhead branches and wires. Keep your pile small, not tall.

  • Stay informed about the weather and possible weather changes. Postpone outdoor burning during high winds or gusts, or periods of low relative humidity. Even if you have a valid permit, stop burning if strong winds develop.

  • Household trash should be hauled away to a trash or recycling station. It is illegal to burn anything other than yard debris.

  • Be sure you are fully prepared before burning. To control the fire, you will need a hose, bucket, steel rake and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire. Keep a phone nearby, too.

  • Never use kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids to speed up debris burning.

  • Stay with your fire until it is completely out.

  • Burning agricultural residue and forestland litter: In addition to the rules above, a fire line should be plowed around the area to be burned. Large fields should be separated into small plots for burning one at a time. Before doing any burning in a wooded area, contact your county ranger, who will weigh all factors, explain them and offer technical advice.

  • Defensible space around your home is important. Clear debris from your roof and gutters. Store firewood and other combustible items at least 30 feet from your home and uphill if possible. For more information and tips to help create a defensible space around your home and protect your property from wildfire, visit NCFS’s or contact Mountain Valley’s Wildfire Preparedness Coordinator at

Always exercise caution with any outdoor burning. Even when burn bans are not in effect, weather conditions may not be favorable for outdoor fires, Troxler said. Outdoor burning is discouraged during periods of low humidity or high winds.

Other helpful links:

  • NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s Open Burning website, including a list of “burning questions” and answers about open burning and associated policies in North Carolina.

  • This video called “Take Five” from the Georgia Forestry Commission is also a great guide for safe debris burning in the southeast.

  • Fall Leaf Litter flyer: Three places to clear near your house.


To find out more about wildfire mitigation and what you can do to keep your family and home safe from fire, visit our Forest Resource page here or contact us at

*Part of this blog was adapted from article: Foresters Urge Caution During Fall Wildfire Season (Oct 2021).

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