Are Burn Barrels Legal? Answers for Every State

Researched & Written by Craig

Burn barrels are an integral part of life for plenty of households.

When waste disposal services are rare or hard to access, sometimes it’s simplest to burn things and be done with it.

Burn barrels make it easy to get rid of flammable, safe materials like yard waste and food scraps. They can reduce weeds and paper products down to ash that’s good for your yard and garden in very little time.

However, burn barrels aren’t always legal. Depending on your state, burn barrels might not be an option for you. You might need a permit, training, or your state may just ban them outright during certain times of year.

Are Burn Barrels Legal?

Overall, the standard answer is that burn barrels are legal. However, they do come with certain restrictions. These can vary – normally including limits on proximity to buildings, materials you can burn, and so on.

Burn Right Incinerator Barrel

Always make sure to use a burn barrel in plenty of open space.

Burn barrels are safe and convenient if they’re used correctly.

The problem is that many people don’t understand how to use them safely. Because common sense isn’t always common, many local governments put restrictions in place on how burn barrels can be used. They may even outlaw them entirely.

In locations where wildfires are common, burn barrels are often outlawed to prevent sparks from spreading. The huge pillars of smoke that can come up off of a burn barrel can spread sparks up to half a mile, depending on the wind. A burn barrel can cause fires that the owner isn’t even aware of until it’s too late and a new wildfire has started.

In environmentally-aware locations, burn barrels might be banned, too. Some people will throw any trash into a burn barrel. That includes plastics and chemicals that can poison both the burn barrel owners and their neighbors. This leads to bans for the sake of protecting local health and air quality.

When it comes to whether burn barrels are legal, it’s important to check your local laws. Even if they’re legal in your state, your county or town may have other regulations. If you’re not sure, you can always ask your town hall for more information.

Burn Barrel Legality By State

While burn barrels are legal in general, their restriction can vary state by state.

I’ve gone ahead and put together a quick state by state summary to save everyone time. It took a lot of research to put together, so I hope it helps you out!

StatePermit Required?LinkComments
AlabamaNoLink"May get temporarily restricted due to risk of wildfires
AlaskaYesLinkBurn permits required due to wildfire risk.
ArizonaYesLinkBurn permits required due to air quality rules.
ArkansasNoLinkNon vegetative burns face fines up to $5000
CaliforniaYesLink
ColoradoYesLink
ConnecticutYesLink
DelawareYesLink
FloridaNoLink
GeorgiaYesLink
HawaiiYesLink
IdahoNoLink
IllinoisNoLink
IndianaNoLink
IowaNoLink
KansasYesLink
KentuckyNoLinkNothing within 150ft of woodland in fire season.
LouisianaNoLink
MaineYesLink
MarylandNoLinkNothing within 200ft of woodland.
MassachusettsNoLinkExcept within dense cities and towns. At least 75ft from buildings.
MichiganNoLinkNot within 1,400ft of a city or village.
MinnesotaNoLink
MississippiNoLinkExcept during burn bans.
MissouriNoLink
MontanaNoLinkThrough November 30 only.
NebraskaYesLink
NevadaYesLinkDepends per county - see link.
New HampshireNoLink
New JerseyYesLink
New MexicoNoLink
New YorkNoLink
North CarolinaNoLink
North DakotaNoLink
OhioNoLink
OklahomaNoLink
OregonNoLink
PennsylvaniaNoLink
Rhode IslandYesLink
South CarolinaNoLink
South DakotaNoLink
TennesseeYesLinkFrom October 15 - May 15.
TexasNoLink
UtahYesLink
VermontYesLink
VirginiaNoLink
WashingtonYesLink
West VirginiaYesLink
WisconsinYesLink
WyomingNoLink

Burn Barrel Best Practices

If you want to safely use your burn barrel you should follow standard campfire safety guidelines.

You’re working with fire, hot metal, and smoke, after all. If your local county requires a permit, they will probably give you some info about safely burning stuff in your area during the permit process. Follow those guidelines above all.

If you don’t need a permit, there are some common-sense rules to follow.

  1. First, fire risk conditions change from day to day. On dry or windy days, avoid burning anything. A stray spark can blow into some dry grass and cause a serious problem, even if you’re being careful. Check local fire conditions online, and never have a burn if the risk is above a moderate level. Wait until things are safer and you’ll have a much lower-stress burn.
  2. When it comes to your burn barrel itself, you need to keep the area clean. An open, paved area is the perfect place for a burn barrel. Pavement won’t catch fire, but your lawn can.
  3. No matter where you put it, after a while you may start to see leaves and grass building up outside the barrel. You can simply throw those into the burn barrel itself. It can serve as tinder. If you leave it around the burn barrel base, your fire is going to escape the second you aren’t paying attention. Keeping things clean keeps you safe.
  4. You should also hose down the area around your burn barrel before the fire gets going. That will help keep sparks from igniting dust and debris. The wet ground acts as a firebreak, even if the worst happens and the barrel tips over. Then keep your hose nearby during the fire, just in case.
  5. Before every burn, clear out ashes from your burn barrel. Ashes can keep your fire from burning cleanly, or they can lead to sparks shooting up in the air. Either way, dumping your ashes helps you keep your fire safely inside the barrel. That prevents wild fires and pollution at the same time.
  6. For your own personal safety, never ever use gas, oil, kerosene, or any other non-standard chemical to start the fire. Gas and kerosene aren’t flammable, they’re explosive. That means that lighting gas on fire can and might kill you if you’re not careful. Even if they don’t explode, they produce seriously smelly smoke. Use things that are designed to start fires, not run an engine. That’s better for you and for the environment.
  7. Once you’ve got the fire going, only feed it natural substances. Burning plastics, pesticides, and other chemicals will result in poisonous or cancer-causing smoke. Even if you stay upwind, your neighbors and the local environment will end up with problems later. Burn yard waste, food scraps, paper products, and other natural substance. If you wouldn’t lick it or put it in the microwave, don’t burn it.
  8. Always be careful handling the burn barrel and adding more fuel. Remember, it’s hot. Use fire tongs and fire-proof gloves to keep yourself safe. Keep polyester and plastic away from the burn barrel, because they’ll probably melt. Keep the barrel only half-full, so it doesn’t tip over.
  9. Once you’re ready to end the burn, be thorough. Wait for the fire to go out on its own, then stir up the ashes. Squash sparks, then pour water on them. Do that another two or three times, or until you stop seeing sparks. Once the fire is out and cold, you’re safe to go inside.

Conclusion

Burn barrels are a great way to get rid of garden waste – provided the burn barrel is legal in your area. They can be perfectly safe and environmentally friendly if you use them correctly.

I hope this quick guide has helped clarify the legal restrictions in your state, and how to make the most out of your barrel.

Just follow your local guidelines and you’ll have a great tool for getting rid of unwanted yard waste.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

-Craig