Open burning restrictions lift December 1, but don’t get burned by the laws

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program Thursday, November 30th, 2023
Pile of tree limbs burning in open farm field

With the warm, dry, and windy months of October and November behind us, Ohio farmers will soon have legal clearance to conduct open burning during the daylight hours.  Ohio law prohibits all open burning from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during October and November.  That’s because ground cover and weather conditions create high fire risk and volunteer firefighters with daytime jobs aren’t readily available to fight the fires. 

December 1 marks the end of the daytime burn restriction, but other open burning laws remain in effect. Farmers can burn “agricultural waste,” but must follow conditions in the open burning laws.  Burning wastes that aren't agricultural waste might require prior permission or notification, and it is illegal to burn some wastes due to the environmental harms they cause. Don't get burned by failing to know and follow the open burning laws.  Here’s a summary of important provisions that affect farmers and farmland owners.

What you can burn.  Ohio law allows the burning of “agricultural wastes” under certain conditions.  Ohio law defines what is and is not “agricultural waste” as follows:

  • Agricultural waste is any waste material generated by crop, horticultural, or livestock production practices, and includes such items as woody debris and plant matter from stream flooding, bags, cartons, structural materials, and landscape wastes that are generated in agricultural activities.
  • Agricultural waste does not include buildings; dismantled or fallen barns; garbage; dead animals; animal waste; motor vehicles and parts thereof; or "economic poisons and containers," unless the manufacturer has identified open burning as a safe disposal procedure.
  • Agricultural waste does not include"land clearing waste," which is debris resulting from the clearing of land for new development for agricultural, residential, commercial or industrial purposes.  Burning of “land clearing waste” requires prior written notification to Ohio EPA.
  • If an agricultural waste pile is greater than 20 ft. wide x 10 ft. high (4,000 cubic feet), permission from Ohio EPA is necessary.

Where you can burn.  Laws that affect the burning location relate to where the waste is generated and whether the burn is in or near a village, city, or buildings:

  • It is legal to burn agricultural waste only if it is generated on the property where the burn occurs.  It is illegal to take agricultural waste to a different property for burning and to receive and burn agricultural waste from another property.
  • Burning inside a “restricted area” requires providing a ten day written notice to Ohio EPA.  A restricted area is any area inside city or village limits, within 1,000-feet of a city or village with a population of 1,000 to 10,000, or within one-mile of a city or village with a population of more than 10,000. 
  • A burn must be located more than 1,000 feet from any neighboring inhabited building.

How to manage the burn.  Ohio laws impose practices a person must follow when conducting open burning, which includes:

  • Remove all leaves, grass, wood, and inflammable materials around the burn to a safe distance.
  • Stack waste to provide the best practicable condition for efficient burning.
  • Don’t burn in weather conditions that prevent dispersion of smoke and emissions.
  • Take reasonable precautions to keep the fire under control. 
  • Extinguish or safely cover an open fire before leaving the area.

Local laws matter too. A local government can also have laws that regulate burning activities, so it’s important to check with the local fire department to know whether any additional regulations apply to a burn.

A bad burn can burn you.   Violation of state and local open burning laws creates several risks for farmers and farmland owners. First is the risk of enforcement by the Ohio EPA, which has the authority to issue fines of up to $1,000 per day per offense for an illegal burn.  According to the EPA, the most common violations by farmers include burning substances that are not “agricultural wastes,” such as tires and plastics, failing to meet the 1,000 foot setback requirement, and burning waste from another property. EPA enforcement officers regularly patrol their districts, investigate fires they see, and investigate complaints from neighbors or others who report burning activities, so “getting caught” is quite possible.

An illegal burn might also bring in the Ohio Division of Forestry or local law enforcement.  Beyond the environmental provisions, other violations of the open burning laws can result in third degree misdemeanor charges.  Penalties of up to $500 and 60 days of jail time per violation could result.  

A final risk to consider is liability for harm to yourself, other people, or other property if a burn goes wrong.  It’s possible for a fire to escape and burn unintended property, to reduce roadway visibility and cause an accident, or to interfere with people, animals, crops, or buildings.  These situations can cause personal injuries, property harm, and could result in insurance claims or a negligence or nuisance lawsuit.  Using common sense and taking reasonable safety precautions when conducting a burn can go a long way toward reducing the risk of harm and resulting liability for harm.

To learn more about Ohio’s open burning laws, visit the Ohio EPA website at https://epa.ohio.gov/divisions-and-offices/air-pollution-control/permitting/open-burning.