CODE COMPLIANCE GUIDELINE
This page outlines the Fire Prevention Code fire safety requirements and prohibitions related to recreational fires kindled within Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna. It does not address bonfires, controlled burning, charcoal grills and open-flame cooking devices, or portable outdoor fireplaces.
Questions regarding the content of this publication should be directed to the Fire Inspections Branch at 703-246-4849 during regular office hours, Monday thru Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
A recreational fire is a constantly attended outdoor fire burning materials other than refuse 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. Recreational fires are specifically exempted from the Fire Prevention Code definition on open burning and therefore do not require a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP).
FIRE SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
In addition to the general prohibitions and forestry-related requirements and prohibitions listed below, the following Fire Prevention Code 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.
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 an unlawful or unsafe recreational fire.
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.
For information about the environmental and health hazards related to burning refuse, including backyard and barrel burning, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) online.
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 recreational fire or open burning 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
FORESTRY-RELATED REQUIREMENTS & PROHIBITIONS
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)
For questions about the 4 P.M. Burn Law, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) frequently asked questions page online.
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)
To learn more, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) online.