In 2013, the Division of Forestry recorded the lowest number of wildland fires since 1927. There were a total of 639 wildfires that burned 9,033 acres (lowest burned acreage was 7,110 in 2003). Increased efforts in fire prevention and suppression contributed to this record low, and landowners getting burn permits to conduct safe debris burning played a major role in that effort.
“We’re hoping to see a continuation of that trend this year and need our citizens’ help,” said state forester Jere Jeter. “Burning leaves and brush that has accumulated around the yard or using fire to clear an old field can be an efficient way to get rid of such vegetation. However, it is very important that citizens practice safe outdoor burning. Obtaining a burn permit in advance of outdoor 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 and county government for any local restrictions.
Permits can be obtained online for small scale burning of leaf and brush piles measuring less than 8 feet by 8 feet in area. The online system provides permit access through the weekend and after-work hours for landowners. These permits can be obtained on days and in counties where burn permits are allowed by visiting www.burnsafetn.org. 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.
The permits can also be obtained by calling your local Division of Forestry office between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday thru 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.
More than 377,000 permits were issued last year for outdoor burning of brush and leaves, untreated wood waste, and burning to clear land. The volume of requests on any given day can be high and callers may experience a delay. The online burn permit system is an alternative for small debris piles.
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.
Despite the low number of fires in 2013, escaped debris burns were still the leading cause of wildfires in Tennessee last year accounting for 243 fires that burned nearly 1,600 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 nearly 5,400 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.