Burn, Baby, Burn!
April 27, 2023
The grass getting green, the sun parting the clouds, temperatures becoming comfortable, and pollen tickling noses can only mean one thing: spring burn season is upon us!
Spring is not only one of Montana’s many wonders, but it is also the best time to collect and burn yard debris before summer takes us into fire season. Spring burn permits may seem like a hassle or headache, but they are required for the debris burn period of March 1st to August 31st. Let this be your guide to applying for, paying, and activating your permits while maintaining a safe burn environment.
General outdoor burn permits are available for Missoula County residents wanting to burn organic material outside and cost only $7 annually to purchase or renew. Once purchased, your permit number belongs to you perpetually and you only need to renew the permit each year, for a $7 fee. Essential Agriculture and Prescribed Wildland outdoor burning seasons are open currently as well and require a permit. Residents may purchase or renew burn permits via https://app.egovmt.com/burnpermit or at your local fire department.
Once your permit has been purchased or renewed, you need to plan and prepare for your burn. It is important to make sure the area around your planned burn is clear of vegetation, away from overhead branches, wires, and structures, and that there is a seven-foot radius cleared around the pile. Keep in mind that General Outdoor burn permits are for organic yard debris only; the burning of garbage, carrion, excrement, treated wood, chemicals, plastics, and other synthetics is prohibited. Additionally, if you are within Missoula City limits you are not permitted to burn unless your property is one acre or more in size, and if you are within the Missoula Air Stagnation Zone (four-mile perimeter around the city of Missoula) you cannot burn dead leaves or grass. Please visit MCFPA.org for more information.
Once an adequate location has been established and you are ready to burn, your burn permit needs to be activated. Activating burn permits is as easy as calling 1-888-538-6497 or visiting https://app.egovmt.com/burnpermit and entering your permit number and burn location. Burn permits can account for multiple burn locations, meaning individuals planning multiple burns across their property will need to activate their permit for each burn location and each time they burn, but do not need to purchase multiple permits. Keep in mind that you may not be able to burn on the day planned, as burning is subject to closure based on fire and weather conditions. Burning without activating your permit counts as an illegal burn, and activating the permit allows the tracking of used permits and burns across the state. If you lose your permit number, fear not! It can be easily recovered by calling your local fire department or the Swan Valley Connections at (406) 754-3137.
After establishing a safe burn location and activating your permit, burning can finally commence! You should have the following on-hand while burning: a reliable water source, shovel, work gloves, boots, a spotter to watch for sparks, a burn permit (that has been activated), and a well-planned burn spot. Once you have these checked off, it’s time to burn, baby, burn! Remember to maintain constant supervision to avoid spread or loss. It is important to practice fire safety even with cooler temperatures and spring rain. Nearly 10% of all human caused wildfires in Missoula County since 2020 have been due to debris burns, thus it is important to keep your burn under control. The fire must be dead out before being left unattended; if it is too hot to touch then it is too hot to leave.
Burns need to be completed by 4 p.m. on the day the permit is activated, for both air quality and fire safety concerns. When your burn is complete, make sure the fire is dead out by checking for glowing embers, drowning the fire, stirring the water and coals, drowning the fire again, and feeling to ensure there is no heat. Putting out your fire should require the same amount of effort you put into starting it. It seems tedious but will benefit you in the long run and is good practice. If the fire gets out of hand at any point, emergency services should be contacted. If you follow the necessary steps outlined in this article, you will be well prepared for your burn and ready for action. Keeping Montana green is always our goal, remember safety first and happy burning!