With spring at hand, Tennesseans begin to take advantage of the mild weather to do some yard work around the home or farm.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry wants to remind citizens that if they are considering doing outdoor burning, a burn permit is required.

“Burning vegetative material that has accumulated around the yard or using fire to clear an old field can be an efficient way to get rid of such debris,” said State Forester Steven Scott. “However, it is very important that citizens practice safe outdoor burning. Obtaining a burn permit in advance of debris burning is our way of making the public aware of those recommendations and helping them know when, where, and how it is safe to burn.”

The free burn permits are required in all areas of the state by law until May 15, unless otherwise covered by local ordinances. Residents should check with their city government for any local restrictions. The permits can be obtained by calling your local Division of Forestry office between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Permits are generally good for 24 hours and can be issued for weekend burning. Phone numbers for each office can be found in the state government section of your local phone book, or by visiting www.BurnSafeTN.org and clicking on the ‘Burn Permits’ button. The website is also a good source of information for safe debris burning practices and fire prevention tips including how to protect your home in the event of a wildfire.

Big numbers

Over 388,000 permits were issued last year for activities that included unconfined, outdoor burning of brush and leaves, untreated wood waste and burning to clear land. The number of requests on any given day can be high, so the Division asks residents to exercise patience if they experience any delay in getting a permit. 

Once a burn permit is obtained, debris burners should practice common sense while conducting a burn. This includes:

• Establish a control line around the fire, down to bare soil before conducting the burn;

• Notify neighbors and local fire departments in advance as a courtesy;

• Have tools on hand such as a leaf rake and garden hose or bucket of water to help control the fire;

• Watch for changing weather conditions as winds can blow the fire in the wrong direction;

• Always stay with your fire until it is completely out. It is not only the smart thing to do, but it is also illegal to leave an open fire unattended. 

Escaped debris burns were the leading cause of wildfires in Tennessee last year accounting for 687 such fires that burned over 4,400 acres. The Division’s burn permit system has dramatically helped reduce the numbers of escaped burns since the program began in 1995. Burning without a permit is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $50. 

Wildfires caused by arson were the second leading cause last year, but accounted for the largest acreage burning over 12,000 acres. Wildland arson is a class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 fines. Anyone with information about suspected arson activity should call the state Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at 1-800-762-3017.

For more information on the Tennessee Division of Forestry, visit www.TN.gov/agriculture/forestry. For more information on safe debris burning, visit www.BurnSafeTN.org.