The Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and your local fire department limit open burning for public health and safety reasons. Learn when and where open burning is allowed, and how to do it safely.
Open Burning Permits & Restrictions
Open burning is allowed from mid winter to early spring across most of Massachusetts. It is prohibited in 22 densely built and populated cities and towns. See below for a list.
If open burning is allowed in your community, contact your local fire department to obtain an open burning permit in advance.
State fire wardens determine each day whether conditions are safe for open burning. Weather and air quality can change rapidly, especially in the spring, and fire departments can rescind permits when that happens.
Open burning must be done:
- Between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. from January 15 to May 1
- At least 75 feet from all buildings
- As close as possible to the source of material being burned
- When air quality is acceptable for burning. Call the MassDEP Air Quality Hotline at (800) 882-1497 or visit MassAir Online to find out if it is.
Communities where open burning is prohibited at all times: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Medford, New Bedford, Newton, Somerville, Springfield, Waltham, Watertown, West Springfield, Worcester
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What Can I Burn?
You are allowed to burn:
- Brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris (but not from commercial or industrial land clearing)
- Agricultural materials including fruit tree and bush prunings, raspberry stalks, and infected bee hives for disease control.
- Trees and brush from agricultural land clearing
- Fungus-infected elm wood, if no other acceptable means of disposal is available
You may not burn:
- Brush, trees, cane or driftwood from commercial or industrial land clearing
- Grass, hay, leaves, stumps or tires
- Construction materials or demolition debris
- Household trash
How Do I Safely Start & Tend a Fire?
- An adult should always be present and attend the fire until it is completely extinguished.
- Keep children and pets a safe distance away.
- Burn away from any utility lines.
- Use paper and kindling to start the fire and add progressively larger pieces of wood. Pieces of a discarded Christmas tree make good kindling. To avoid the risk of personal injury, never use gasoline, kerosene or other flammable liquid as a fire starter.
- Burn one small pile of material at a time and slowly add to it. This helps keep the fire from getting out of control.
- Keep fire extinguishing materials handy. These should include a water supply, shovels and rakes. The water supply can be a pressurized water fire extinguisher, pump can, or garden hose. Test the water source before lighting the fire.
- Put the fire out if winds pick up or the weather changes. Use common sense. Don't wait for the fire department to tell you that it has become unsafe to burn. Most fires get out of control during sudden wind changes.
- If the fire gets out of control, call the fire local department right away to prevent personal injury and property damage.
- You could be held liable for firefighting costs, as well as face fines or jail time, if you burn illegally or allow a fire to get out of control (see M.G.L. c.48, s.13).
What Times are Best for Open Burning?
You can help prevent wildland fires by burning early in the season. Wet and snowy winter conditions help hinder the rapid spread of fire on or under the ground.
Changing weather conditions and increased fire danger in spring can lead to many days when open burning is not allowed.
April is usually the worst month for brush fires. When snow recedes, but before new growth emerges, last year's dead grass, leaves and wood are dangerous tinder. Winds also tend to be strong and unpredictable in April.
What are the Alternatives to Open Burning?
While still allowed in most Massachusetts towns and cities, open burning has disadvantages.
The combustion process releases carbon dioxide, other gases, and solid substances directly into the air. This can make it difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe. It can also cause smoke and odor nuisance conditions for neighbors.
Disposing of natural materials is never as good for the environment as recycling them. Ask your public works or solid waste department if your community chips or composts natural debris into landscaping material.
What Other Types of Outdoor Fires are Allowed?
With the fire department's approval and supervision, a community may schedule:
- Christmas tree burning between December 26 and January 7 (although recycling trees or “planting” them in dunes to control beach erosion are more beneficial to the environment)
- One ceremonial bonfire each year to observe a municipal, state or national event
- A bonfire between July 2 and July 6 in observance of Independence Day
Outdoor cooking is allowed year-round in all communities and is not subject to open burning limits.
With specific approval from MassDEP, local fire departments may also stage outdoor fires for purposes of fire prevention or protection research and training
What about Fire Pits?
Fire pits have become popular in recent years. But unless they are being used for cooking, they are subject to the MassDEP open burning regulation. If you do use a fire pit for cooking, the fire must be:
- Kept to a reasonable size
- Located away from combustible materials
- Contained in a non-flammable enclosure, and
- Tended by someone who is 18 years of age or older.
Remember to burn only clean, dry firewood. This will minimize the amount of smoke leaving your property and affecting neighbors. You may not burn trash, refuse or similar materials.
Some cities and towns regulate, limit or prohibit the use of chimineas, fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. To find out if your community has specific requirements, contact your local fire department.