For Immediate Release - April 04, 2014

State Fire Marshal Urges Caution: Prevent Brush and Wildland Fires

Coan said. “Every spring, wind and weather conditions combine to elevate the hazards of brush fires. Once the snow melts it reveals dried grass, leaves, and fallen branches. Warm winds, low humidity and bright sunshine combine to make them tinder dry. This combustible debris provides the fuel for brush and woods fires.”

Fire Department Permit

“You need a permit from the local fire department to burn brush, and this year burning can only take place when both air quality and fire safety conditions are acceptable,” said Coan, “This may end of up limiting the number of possible open burning days this season as days that are good from a fire safety perspective may not also be good from an air quality perspective. So the best advice is to do your burning early,” said Coan.

Call MassDEP Open Burning Hotline

Starting this year MA Dept. of Environmental Protection is requiring everyone to call the MassDEP Open Burning Hotline at 617-556-1021 to determine if the air burning conditions are acceptable for open burning, or to check on-line at Even with a permit in hand, you cannot burn if the air quality is not acceptable.

In most of the state's towns and cities (22 communities ban it entirely), homeowners are allowed to burn brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris but not grass, hay, leaves or stumps, from January 15 to May 1, so long as the open burning takes place:

  • With the permission of the local fire department;
  • Between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.;
  • When air is circulating well but without high winds, and the Daily Air Quality Forecast - MassAir Online (also available at the MassDEP Open Burning Hotline at 617-556-1021) is “good” in your community’s Massachusetts Fire & Incident Support (ISU) Response District. Link to the image file.
  • No less than 75 feet away from all dwellings;
  • On your own property and as close as possible to the source of material(s) to be burned;
  • The fire is constantly monitored by an adult. Leaving burning unattended is a reason to revoke burning permits; and
  • Fire suppression tools are handy: Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose charged with water, and a shovel and rake close by.

How to Safely Burn Brush

  • Use paper and kindling to start a fire and add progressively larger pieces of wood. Parts of a leftover Christmas tree may also be used.
  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid to start a fire! The risk of personal injury in these cases is very high.
  • Burn one small pile at a time and slowly add to it. This will help keep the fire from getting out of control.
  • Select a location away from utility lines.
  • Burn the fire down to the coals, drown them with water, spread them out, then drown them again.

Fire Control Tools and Water Supply Must Be Present

You are required to have a water supply and fire control tools on hand. The water supply can be a pressurized fire extinguisher, a pump can or garden hose, and be sure to test it out before igniting the fire to be sure it works properly. Also, if relying on a garden hose double-check that the water supply is turned on and that there are no cracks in the hose itself.

Don’t Delay a Call for Help

If the fire should get out of control, call the fire department immediately. “Once started, winds fan the flames and fire can spread faster than a person can run,” said Coan. Use the utmost caution to prevent injury to yourself or family members or any damage by fire to your home.

Watch the Wind: Be Prepared to Extinguish All Open Burning

It is unsafe to burn during high winds. Use common sense and don’t wait for the fire department to contact you that is has become unsafe to burn. Sudden wind change is how most open burning gets out of control.

April Has Most Brush Fires

In 2013, there were 4,612 brush fires reported to the Mass. Fire Incident Reporting System (MFIRS) that caused three civilian deaths, one civilian injury, and 26 firefighter injuries. April is historically the month with the most brush fires as the snow pack recedes, the ground has not greened up, and people are engaged in open burning as part of the spring clean-up.

The Weymouth Fire Department was called to a brush fire in the backyard of a single-family home where they discovered a 58-year old man in the backyard who died from burns when his clothing ignited.

The Charlton Fire Department was called to a fatal outside fire where a 91-year old man ignited his clothing burning debris in a 55-gallon drum in his backyard.


average number of MA brush fires by month 2009-2013

*2013 figures should be considered preliminary.