Recreational Fire Defined. The Fire Prevention Code defines "recreational fire" as an outdoor fire burning materials other than refuse (i.e., garbage, rubbish, trade waste) where the fuel being burned is not contained in an incinerator, outdoor fireplace, portable outdoor fireplace, barbeque grill or barbeque pit and has a total fuel area of 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height for pleasure, religious, ceremonial, cooking, warmth or similar purposes.
Permit Not Required. Recreational fires are specifically exempted from the Fire Prevention Code definition of open burning and therefore do not require a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP). The permit requirements for open burning (i.e., controlled burning and bonfires) also do not apply to portable outdoor fireplaces and open-flame cooking devices. Recreational fires shall be conducted in accordance with the Fire Prevention Code and other applicable laws.
Fire Safety Requirements. In addition to the general prohibitions and forestry-related requirements and prohibitions listed below, the following fire safety requirements apply to recreational fires kindled in Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna:
- Property Owner Permission. Recreational fires may only be conducted with the property owner's permission. No person shall kindle nor authorize to be kindled nor maintain any recreational fire in such a manner that will endanger the property of another.
- Distance from Combustibles. Recreational fires shall not be conducted within 25 feet of a structure or combustible material. Conditions which could cause a fire to spread within 25 feet of a structure shall be eliminated prior to ignition.
- Fuel Area Limitation. A recreational fire shall have a total fuel area of 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height.
- Allowable Fuels. Burn only dry, well-seasoned firewood or similar clean burning wood. Land-clearing waste and/or refuse shall not be used as a fuel for a recreational fire. .
- Attendance. Fires shall be constantly attended until completely extinguished. A smoldering fire is not completely extinguished and should never be left unattended
- Means of Extinguishment. A minimum of one portable fire extinguisher with a minimum 4-A rating or other approved on-site fire-extinguishing equipment, such as dirt, sand, water barrel, garden hose or water truck, shall be available for immediate utilization.
Code Compliance Guideline. Although a permit is not required for a recreational fire, a code compliance guideline is available. The guideline outlines fire safety requirements, general prohibitions, and forestry-related requirements and prohibitions related to kindling recreational fires in Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna.
OPEN BURNING: Bonfires & Controlled Burning
Open Burning Defined. The Fire Prevention Code defines "open burning" as the burning of materials wherein products of combustion are emitted directly into the ambient air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber. Open burning does not include road flares, smudgepots, and similar devices associated with safety or occupational uses typically considered open flames, recreational fires or use of portable outdoor fireplaces. For the purpose of this definition, a chamber shall be regarded as enclosed when, during the time combustion occurs, only apertures, ducts, stacks, flues, or chimneys necessary to provide combustion air and permit the escape of exhaust gas are open.
Permit Required. In Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna there are two recognized types of lawful open burning requiring a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) from the Fire Marshal. More specifically, in accordance with Section 307.2 of the Fire Prevention Code (as amended by Fairfax County), if under the requirements of the County of Fairfax Air Pollution Control Chapter (Chapter 103, Fairfax County Code) open burning is allowed, a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) for controlled burning or bonfire shall be obtained from the Fire Marshal for each location. This permit requirement does not apply to recreational fires, fire set for the training of firefighters under the direction of the Chief of the Fire Department, or fire set by a public health or safety officer where a health or fire hazard cannot be abated by any other means. Controlled burning and bonfire are each defined as follows:
- Bonfire. A bonfire is a supervised outdoor fire utilized primarily for ceremonial purposes that has a fuel area greater than 3 feet in diameter and greater than 2 feet in height. The size of the bonfire (i.e., quantity of fuel or fuel area) may be limited at the discretion of the Fire Marshal. A bonfire is a form of open burning and a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) is required to kindle a bonfire.
- Controlled Burning. Controlled burning is the destruction and reduction of land-clearing waste on properties larger than five acres through a controlled open burning process resulting from permitted land-clearing operations, agricultural operations, natural disasters, and may include the use of an Air Curtain Destructor (ACD) or Pit Incinerator (PIT). Controlled burning is a form of open burning and is not permitted in volatile organic compounds emissions control areas including Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna during the months of May, June, July, August, and September of each year. A Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) is required to conduct controlled burning.
Compliance Guidelines. A code compliance guideline is available for bonfires and controlled burning. Each guideline outlines fire safety requirements, general prohibitions, forestry- and air quality-related restrictions and prohibitions, permit application instructions, and inspection scheduling information related to bonfires and controlled burning in Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna.
Endangering Property Prohibited. In accordance with Section 307.5.1 of the Fire Prevention Code (as amended by Fairfax County), no person shall kindle, authorize to be kindled, or maintain any permitted (i.e., allowable) fire in such a manner that will endanger the property of another. This might include unlawful or unsafe open burning and recreational fires.
Prohibited Open Burning. In accordance with Section 307.1 of the Fire Prevention Code, a person shall not kindle or maintain or authorize to be kindled or maintained any open burning (i.e., controlled burning and bonfires) unless first approved by the Fire Marshal and conducted in accordance with the Fire Prevention Code. In addition, open burning that is offensive or objectionable because of smoke emissions or when atmospheric conditions or local circumstances make such fires hazardous shall be prohibited.
Burning of Refuse Prohibited. With the exception of the destruction and reduction of land-clearing waste through an approved controlled burning operation, the burning of refuse shall be prohibited. The definition of refuse originates from Fairfax County air pollution control regulations (Chapter 103, Fairfax County Code) and shall mean and include garbage, rubbish, and trade waste defined as follows:
- Garbage. Garbage shall mean animal and vegetable matter such as that originating in houses, kitchens, restaurants and hotels, produce markets, food service or processing establishments, greenhouses, and hospitals, clinics or veterinary facilities.
- Rubbish. Rubbish shall mean solids not considered to be highly flammable or explosive such as, but not limited to, rags, old clothes, leather, rubber, carpets, wood, excelsior, paper, ashes, tree branches, yard trimmings, furniture, metal food containers, glass, crockery, masonry, and other similar materials.
- Trade Waste. Trade waste shall mean all solid or liquid material resulting from construction, building operations, or the prosecution of any business, trade or industry such as, but not limited to, plastic products, cinders and other forms of solid or liquid waste materials.
Learn More: For infomation about the environmental and health hazards related to burning refuse, including backyard and barrel burning, visit the Backyard Burning section of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.
Ignitable Liquids or Hazardous Materials Prohibited. Combustible and flammable liquids, as well as other hazardous materials, shall not be used to aid the ignition of any open burning or recreational fire. Furthermore, the application, dispensing, or use of a combustible or flammable liquid, or any other hazardous material, upon or into the fuel used in any controlled burn, bonfire, or recreational fire may be considered an unauthorized release of a hazardous material and is strictly prohibited.
Materials Producing Dense Smoke Prohibited. The burning of rubber, asphaltic materials, combustible and flammable liquids, impregnated wood or similar materials which produce dense smoke is considered objectionable, a hazard and nuisance to the community, and is prohibited.
Hazardous Fires Prohibited. The Fire Marshal or Fire Department may order the immediate extinguishment of any open burning or recreational fire because of one or more of the following hazardous situations:
- Unattended fires
- Unprotected or uncontained fires deemed capable of spreading
- Inadequate fire extinguishing equipment/materials
- Combustible exposure hazards
- Inappropriate or hazardous materials used as fuel
- Air contaminants, smoke, or other materials which may cause a traffic hazard
4 P.M. Burn Law. During the period February 15 through April 30 of each year (Spring Wildfire Season), it shall be unlawful, in any county or city or portion thereof organized for forest fire control under the direction of the State Forester, for any person to set fire to, or to procure another to set fire to, any brush, leaves, grass, debris or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material capable of spreading fire, located in or within 300 feet of any woodland, brushland, or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material, except between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and midnight. During spring wildfire season, you are allowed to burn between 4 p.m. and midnight as long as you take proper care and precaution and attend your fire at all times. (Code of Virginia, §10.1-1142-B)
Governor's Burn Ban. Upon proclamation of the Governor of Virginia, it shall be unlawful for any persons to do any open burning nearer than 300 feet from any forestlands, brushlands or fields in the Commonwealth of Virginia containing dry grass or other flammable material when such locations, or any parts thereof, have become so dry as to create a serious fire hazard endangering lives and property. Furthermore, it shall be unlawful for any person to smoke, burn leaves, grass, brush or debris of any type or to ignite or maintain any open fire nearer than 300 feet from any forestlands, brushlands or fields containing inflammable vegetation or marshland adjoining such forestlands, brushlands, fields or idle or abandoned lands, when such locations, or any parts thereof, have become so dry as to create an extraordinary fire hazard. (Code of Virginia, §10.1-1158 & 1159)
Extinguishment of Open Air Fires. Any person who builds a fire in the open air, or uses a fire built by another in the open air, within 150 feet of any woodland, brushland or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material, shall totally extinguish the fire before leaving the area and shall not leave the fire unattended. (Code of Virginia, § 10.1-1142-D).
Precautions Against Spread of Fire. It shall be unlawful for any owner or lessee of land to set fire to, or to procure another to set fire to, any woods, brush, logs, leaves, grass, debris, or other inflammable material upon such land unless he previously has taken all reasonable care and precaution, by having cut and piled the same or carefully cleared around the same, to prevent the spread of such fire to lands other than those owned or leased by him. It shall also be unlawful for any employee of any such owner or lessee of land to set fire to or to procure another to set fire to any woods, brush, logs, leaves, grass, debris, or other inflammable material, upon such land unless he has taken similar precautions to prevent the spread of such fire to any other land. (Code of Virginia § 10.1-1142-A)
For additional information about the 4 p.m. Burn Law, local burn restrictions, and current fire information, please visit the Wildfire and Fire Safety section of the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) website.
AIR QUALITY RESTRICTIONS & FORECAST
Seasonal Restrictions. In accordance with Virginia's air quality regulations, controlled burning shall be prohibited during the months of May, June, July, August, and September of each year. Therefore, the Fire Marshal will not issue controlled burning permits effective during those months, and permits already issued shall be become invalid and controlled burning operations discontinued. This restriction does not apply to lawful bonfires or recreational fires. For detailed information on Virginia's air quality regulations restricting open burning, visit the Open Burning section of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) website.
Air Quality Index Restrictions. During all times of the year when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is greater than 150 (i.e., unhealthy or CODE RED), controlled burning shall be prohibited. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) is responsible for reporting daily air quality levels to the public in the region. For more information on air quality in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, visit the Air Quality section of the Fairfax County website or the Air Quality Forecast section of the MWCOG website.