The facts about outdoor burning

Here you will find information about:

What are the restrictions on outdoor burning?

Outdoor burning of yard debris (leaves, branches, grass clippings, etc.) and debris from land clearings is not allowed within urban growth areas. Most cities and towns in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and areas surrounding these are designated as urban growth areas by city and county planning departments. Currently, outdoor burning of yard waste is allowed in some parts of Kitsap county with a permit from your fire district.  

If you are located outside an urban growth area, you may only burn natural vegetation by permit from your local fire district or the Department of Natural Resources.

During a wintertime burn ban, it is illegal to burn anywhere throughout the counties where the burn ban is called.  

nikolaev To find out for sure where you can and can't burn, contact your local fire district, city hall, local library or planning department.  Even if you legally can burn, consider better alternatives. And always be considerate of your neighbors!

Barbecues, cooking fires and camp fires are not affected by the restriction on outdoor burning. By state rules, camp fires must be lit only in designated areas within camp grounds. Camp fires need to be no larger than 4 feet in diameter. Check with a park official or the Department of Natural Resources for more information.

Agricultural burning within an urban growth area is allowed for commercial farms and under certain other conditions. Call us at (206) 343-8800 or 1-800-552-3565 to request an application for a permit to burn agricultural waste.

The burning of household garbage has been prohibited since 1967 in the entire state of Washington. It is illegal to burn any kind of non-organic material -- this includes paper, plastic and other items found in household garbage. Burning garbage releases toxic compounds into the air. Your fireplace or outdoor fire does not have high-tech filtering systems like a large scale incinerator.

What is an urban growth area?

The urban growth area boundaries are a long-term growth management strategy adopted by your county or city council. Urban growth areas are areas where your county wants to direct future growth in an urban area. The purpose of these areas is to manage future growth to create a well-planned community. Some reasons for managing growth in these areas may be to assure easy public transportation, planning for future schools, and utility services like water and waste collection. They do not necessarily show where current urban growth exists.

County planners in cooperation with elected city and county officials have been responsible for proposing and establishing the urban growth area boundaries. If you disagree with the placement of these boundaries, you may contact your county commissioner/council or city council.

Why is burning restricted?

Smoke from outdoor burning is a major health problem in many communities. Even in smaller communities, smoke travels easily through residential neighborhoods. Smoke from branches, grass and twigs emits toxic compounds, some of which are known to cause cancer. Infants and small children, the elderly, and people with ailments like asthma and emphysema are especially sensitive to smoke. Outdoor burning is a serious problem for many people.  You might be surprised to learn how many people are forced to call the fire department or us because of smoke.

This restriction is a part of the 1991 Washington Clean Air Act (RCW 70.94.665) as well as agency regulations (Regulation 1:8.03). If you wish to try influence legislation in this area, speak with your city council representative. In Seattle, Tacoma and Everett, you may contact the office of the mayor.

What about my burn barrel?

Using a burn barrel for an outdoor fire doesn't make it any less an outdoor fire. In fact, burn barrels are a poor method of burning since they limit the amount of oxygen the fire gets. Burning in a burn barrel is illegal within urban growth areas.  And remember, burning garbage is illegal everywhere in the state, even in a burn barrel.

What can I do with my yard waste?

There are a number of good alternatives to burning. Garbage haulers in most areas offer curbside yard waste pick-up for less than $10 a month. Yard waste that is picked up at the curb is recycled at commercial compost sites and becomes compost that is reused in gardening. Yard waste debris can also be dumped at county transfer sites and hauler dropboxes. Check with your county solid waste utility or your local garbage service about these locations.

Who do I call for yard waste information?

King County Solid Waste Division  (206) 296-4466

Inside Seattle city limits: Seattle Solid Waste Utility  (206) 684-7600

Pierce County Solid Waste  (206) 593-4050

Snohomish County Solid Waste  (206) 388-3425

Kitsap County Department of Public Works  (360) 895-3931 or 1-800-825-4940

How can I apply for an exception to the rule?

You can apply for a variance (or exception) to the no-burn regulation within an urban growth area. The variance fee is $1000 for a single occasion. The variance process is intended for large land clearing burns, where the cost of other disposal would be very high. A public hearing to address concerns by affected neighbors will be called to determine if there would be public opposition to the burning. This fee and procedure is no guarantee that a permit to burn will be issued.

Updated December 1996

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