Open Burning Rules and Common Sense Guidelines for Bell Springs Road Area

Open Burning Rules and Common Sense Guidelines for Bell Springs Road Area


In a forested, rural area like Bell Springs Road, it is always a challenge to make your property fire-safe. One of the best techniques is to cut brush, overcrowded young trees, and dead limbs and trees in order to reduce the fuel available to a fire. Clearing this material allows a fire to move through the forest without climbing "ladder fuels" and burning mature trees in a "crown fire." Clearing around house, buildings, and roads helps them to survive fires and allows for ingress of fire trucks and egress of residents and animals. See our Fire Links and Resources page for more information on creating Defensible Space around your home.

Once you cut a lot of material, you face the decision of what to do with it. Piling it up and letting it sit creates the greater fire hazard of a stack of dry material ready to catch an ember and make a fire hotter. Your choices come down to burning the material in place, chipping it into a pile of decomposing mulch, or removing it to be processed elsewhere. The last choice is expensive and time consuming if there is much material and just creates a problem elsewhere. The middle choice requires equipment and labor. It's a great choice but a major undertaking for most property owners. Be sure to check our page about the Mendocino Fire Council's Chipping program. They will match the labor you provide cutting the material and bring in a contractor with a heavy-duty chipper and crew to turn your material into mulch.

It's a great program but funds are limited, you must be able to place material next to a road, and maybe it's not for you. In that case, the first choice above is all that remains. Namely, pile up the material and burn it in the winter. That's what this article is about. We encourage you to cut and burn excess fuel on your property. It makes firefighting easier and makes the community safer. We want you to do it safely so here are the official rules on open burning in our area and some common sense guidelines to help you successfully clean up your land.


In rural areas outside Fire District boundaries

  • From end of the Burn Ban in the fall to April 30, only an Air Quality permit is required with burning only on designated Burn Days.
  • Permits are $15.00 and available at the Mendocino County Air Resources Board link at bottom of article.
  • From May 1 to start of Burn Ban, a permit from Calfire is required. Call the Laytonville Calfire Station at the number below.
  • Always check the Burn Day Status by calling the number listed below.
  • When Burn Ban is in effect, no burning is allowed. Period.
  • The start date of the Burn Ban season is not a set date but decided by Calfire according to conditions. It usually starts in mid May to mid June.

Within a Fire District boundary

  • A permit from that district is required. Bell Springs Road is not within a Fire District although Laytonville Fire responds to calls there.


  • Penalties for burning without a permit or burning on a no-burn day can be up to $1000.00 and/or six months in jail.
  • If a fire escapes, you will be responsible for damages and suppression costs. You can be sued by anyone whose property is damaged.
  • The consequences can be very serious so think carefully before you light the match.

CalFire's Guidelines for Burning

  • Only burn clean dry vegetation
  • Minimum of 10 feet clearance from any combustibles.
  • All fires must be attended by an adult at all times.
  • Adequate water to put the fire out and a shovel must be present.
  • You are responsible for any damage your fire causes.
  • Do not burn lumber, garbage, metal, plastic of any type.
  • Do not burn cardboard or paper except as needed to start fire
  • Do not use a burn barrel.
  • Burn only between 9am and 3pm on designated Burn Days.
  • Keep pile to 4 feet by 4 feet size.

Use Common Sense When Burning

  • Cover center of pile with a tarp or special paper(available at Bailey’s) in the fall to keep center dry to allow easier start
  • Never use fresh gasoline to start a fire
  • A mix of 1/3 old gasoline and 2/3 diesel fuel makes a good firestarter that does not explode.
  • Use only enough fuel to get fire started and keep it off your hands and clothes.
  • NEVER put fuel on a fire that you previously tried to start but failed at. There may be embers in the pile that will ignite the fuel and flash back toward the can and you. You only have one chance to start a fire with liquid fuel.
  • A large propane blowtorch is a safer way to start a fire and works better when the wood is wet. With dry material, a small propane plumbing torch will work.
  • It is even safer to use paper, kindling, and dry wood to start the pile burning.
  • Do not build a huge pile and set it on fire. Start a small fire and add material to it to keep it under control.
  • If you are clearing an area, burn as you go instead of building a huge pile to burn later.
  • In the spring, it is easy to underestimate the dryness of a pile and the surrounding woods. Keep your fire small with a large clearance from flammable material.
  • If you have a lot of material to burn, make a large clearing and haul material to it. At the end of each day, let the fire burn down to embers, rake out most of the coals and and cover the center with ashes. The next day uncover the embers and put dry material on top and the fire will start back up. If the weather is dry or strong winds are predicted, put out the fire completely.
  • Dig a ten foot wide fire line around the fire down to mineral soil.
  • Teach your children to be safe around fire and supervise them closely around burn piles. Kids are fascinated by fire so educate them about its uses and dangers. Bring marshmallows.
  • Wear cotton or wool clothes with long sleeves and wear leather gloves and boots. Avoid synthetic materials which will melt on your skin if ignited.
  • Wear safety glasses or fire goggles. Fires often throw sparks and embers.
  • Calfire says you must have 10 feet clearance to combustibiles but that is often not adequate in the woods. Consider the size of your pile, the heat potential and dryness of the burning material, the ambient humidity, moisture content of surrounding forest, and the existing and forecasted wind speed and direction. A conservative rule of thumb would be to have a clearance 10 times the height of the pile. If you have a four foot high pile, have 40 feet clearance all around the fire. That’s radius not diameter so in that case you would need an 80 foot wide circle to burn in.
  • Beware of burning close to oak trees. If the moss on the trunk is dry, embers can set it on fire and it will burn up the trunk. If there are hollow spots in the trunk as there often are, embers can land in them and start a fire within the tree which is very hard to put out.
  • Never burn on top of stumps. Fire may smolder in the roots and come to life weeks later.
  • Look up when you choose a place to burn. Make sure there are no overhead wires or tree branches above the site.
  • Consider wind direction and strength to minimize smoke irritating your neighbors and the danger of embers starting spot fires.
  • Alert your neighbors and local fire crews to burning activities that may raise alarms.
  • If you are ready to burn and are unsure of how safe it is, call Bell Springs Fire and we will assess your situation and, if necessary, assign a truck with water, pump, fire tools, and fireman to stand by at your site. Donations accepted.