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What Does a Burn Ban Really Mean?

What Does a Burn Ban Really Mean?

Thoroughly enjoying the outdoors comes with significant payoffs and some responsibility. A great example of this is the forests of Colorado. The Rocky Mountains of the Centennial State provide the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts, but without respecting fire burn bans, these fragile forests could burn quickly. Taxed by years-long drought and widespread insect infestation, the trees are susceptible to even the slightest miscalculation by a camper, traveler, or smoker.

Counties regularly issue burn bans to save the land they love. It greatly benefits all visitors to understand what they should do when fire bans are issued or poor air quality is forecasted. Read on to learn more.

burn ban sign beside dirt road

What Is a Burn Ban? 

Set by local county governments, a burn ban restricts or prohibits outdoor burning activities. These bans can be on campfires, smoking, fireworks, welding, the use of outdoor stoves and grills, chainsaw use, and in some cases, motorized vehicles on specific roads.

Fire bans (or burn bans) are often in regions susceptible to wildfires. These areas may be in prolonged drought, and counties may issue a fire ban when anticipating high winds or low humidity levels. They could also announce a ban when surrounding areas have active fires, alerting the public.

Some regions have problems with air quality, instituting burn bans because a section of their populace may have problems breathing when the air is full of unfiltered particulates.

Counties issue an air quality burn ban when the air becomes degraded by toxins and toxic elements, threatening to harm those with respiratory problems. This can happen with temperature inversions, where the atmosphere holds smoke and pollutants toward the earth’s surface, or when weather is stagnant, without wind to move these particulates out of the area.

What You Should Know About Burn Bans

What Does a Burn Ban Really Mean?

A fire ban occurs when county officials use current fire dangers (especially in drought conditions) with wind and humidity forecasts to anticipate possible fire activity. Because it’s in stages, different regulations are put into place to prevent wildfires caused by human activity, like smoking outdoors or lighting campfires. These restrictions get more stringent as the possibility of fire danger increases.

Burn bans are usually in “stages.” Working from Stage 1 fire restrictions, the items counties prohibit become progressively more stringent as the stages increase.

Stage 1 fire restrictions impose relatively minor limits. They aim to preventing the start of wildfires based on human activities that are known to be high risk, specifically smoking and campfires. Usually, you can still have campfires, they just need to be in designated fire rings in developed campsites. Smoking must be done in enclosed vehicles or buildings, or at least a certain distance away from flammable objects or vegetation.

➡ You should ALWAYS make sure your fire is completely doused with water before leaving it unattended.

Stage 2 fire bans add to the Stage 1 list of prohibited burn activities. Often at this stage, authorities prohibit all open flames, even in designated campfire rings and grills. The use of internal combustion engines and driving motor vehicles off-road is usually also limited to avoid engine heat and sparks from igniting grasses or other dry vegetation. Exceptions to this stage include smokeless, ashless, and sparkles LPG fire pits and camp stoves.

Stage 3 fire bans typically ban everything or completely close an area to all users, with few exceptions.

Pro Tip: Building a campfire when there is a fire ban is a big no-no! Here are an additional 9 Campfire Rules You Should Never Break.

Fire danger sign
When entering a national park or forest, keep an eye out for a sign that alerts about fire danger.

Year-Round National Forest Burn Restrictions

It is worthwhile to note that many burn activities are prohibited in national forests all the time. National Forests are popular places of camping and recreation, so knowing these additional blanket restrictions is helpful.

UDSA Forest Service fire bans still prohibit these with additional limits on recreational fires, camp stoves, engine use, and other liquid fuel devices.

The following are always prohibited: possessing, discharging or using any fireworks; the use of explosives including exploding targets and incendiary ammunition; operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order; and operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine in violation of Industrial Fire Precaution directives (IFPL).

Some Places Don’t Allow Fires, Period

Another thing to note is that some places may not allow fires ever. They may have chronic dry weather or other reasons for disallowing fires or other related activities. It’s best not to assume you can burn whatever you want wherever you want. Often these places are marked with permanent signs to help visitors understand the rules.

no fire sign
Some places have permanent bans on fires.

What If You Violate a Burn Ban?

Violating a burn ban can be quite serious. Depending on what kind of land you are, you could be charged with a federal, state, or local misdemeanor. You could be fined thousands of dollars and even serve jail time depending on the severity.

Not only do you face these legal and financial repercussions, but you could also start a fire that could grow into something much larger and cause a lot of damage. You could end up responsible for the destruction of homes, businesses, and even lives.

How Do You Know If There’s a Fire Ban?

Many counties place signs along busier roadways at their county lines, announcing fire bans and the potential for forest fires. If entering a national forest campground, there may be a warning sign. If the ban is at a state level, the Forest Service may close the campground. Otherwise, local papers and county websites are the best news sources regarding burn bans. 

Some counties will post a map with active burn bans and fires. Local television stations may announce the prohibitions. Social media accounts for specific counties are an almost immediate way to discover burn bans.

Additionally, many counties have a reverse 911 system that can alert residents of pre-evacuation status. They may have a county-wide phone app that issues the alerts for fire bans. Finally, your county may send email alerts if you subscribe to their website or newsletter.

Park ranger smiling in national park
When in doubt, ask a park ranger if it’s safe to make a campfire.

Can You Use a Pellet Grill During a Burn Ban? 

Pellet stoves and smokers have an open flame. Therefore, you cannot use them during a fire ban. The pellets are from compressed wood products and require fire to burn them and produce heat. So you should not use a Traeger whenever a fire ban is in place.

Self-contained grills and griddles, however, usually have a Piezo to ignite the propane. Under everything but the strictest fire ban stages, you can use them as long as you clear the area of any flammable materials.

Charcoal grills are also typically banned during the first stage of a fire ban. Be sure to check to see what your local burn ban covers. However, you must always be sure to dispose of your used charcoal safely and in appropriate containers, active ban or no.

Can You Use a Propane Fire Pit During a Burn Ban?

Because gas-fueled fire pits don’t emit smoke, ash, or sparks, you can usually use them during the first stages of a fire ban. Stage one alerts do not allow the use of any device that smokes during a burn ban because (1) there is a chance that ashes could carry through the air to start a fire in dry tinder or (2) the smoke has particles that can harm those with respiratory problems during an air quality burn ban.

Pro Tip: We think portable propane fire pits can be great campfire options! Check out these 5 Reasons Portable Propane Fire Pits Are Better Than Wood Campfires.

Woman starting a campfire
Fire bans are in place for everyone’s safety. Make sure to follow the rules and not start a campfire if a ban is in place.

Can You BBQ During a Burn Ban? 

If your grill or griddle puts off smoke, you cannot operate it during a fire ban. However, if the grill is electric, heated by propane in a self-contained unit, most counties will allow their use, as long as the cooking area around the equipment is free of any flammable material.

Person grilling on electric grill
If you have an electric grill that doesn’t produce smoke, most sites will allow you to use it to cook.

What Do You Do When You See a Forest Fire?

When you spot a forest fire, you must contact fire professionals immediately. Especially in areas where drought provides dry fuel for the fire to expand quickly. Call 911 and do not attempt to put the fire out yourself. Back away from it and stay where you can direct firefighters to the flames.

If a campfire is smoldering, you should soak the coals in water or bury them with sand or dirt. Separate any wood to lessen the possibility of fire. But once flames occur, do not try to stop the fire on your own. It can move so quickly that you may not have the opportunity to escape.

Burn Ban? Campfire Considerations & Fuels

How Do You Know If A Wildfire Is In Your Area?

One of the best resources we’ve found besides local news and internet searches is InciWeb, the Incident Information System. This system reports where wildfires are, the causes of the fires, their containment status, and updates. We strongly suggest adding this website to your bookmarks if you’re planning on traveling through wildfire country.

Is It Important to Respect Burn Bans? (YES!)

We cannot stress enough just how important it is to respect and abide by county fire bans. Whether for fire prevention or to stop poor air quality spreading, burn bans keep you and your fellow citizens safe.

Just imagine how you would feel if you started a blaze that consumed your neighbor’s house. Many who live in communities prone to fire danger fear that a visitor will unknowingly do just that. So, please pay attention to the regulations to protect all of us.

Where have you traveled that had a burn ban? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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