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Are Fire Pits Allowed in California (& When)?

Fall is coming to an end and we’re wondering if we can have a fire pit in our backyard as the temperature is dropping. There’s not a good answer out there, so I dug a bit deeper. Here’s what I found.

According to The California Fire Code, fire pits are legal as long as they’re at least 25 feet away from combustible materials and not located in a Wildfire Risk Area. However, it comes down to your city or county. Burn bans may be in effect during times of air pollution and/or increased fire risk.

So, while the state of California allows fire pits if certain measures are followed, how do you check with your city and county, and what are some more rules you should know? Let’s take a closer look.

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What Are The Laws For Fire Pits and Campfires in California?

a wood fire pit

Fire pits and campfires are generally allowed in California as long as they’re at least 25 feet away from flammable objects such as homes, trees, and wood fences. Approved fireplaces are exempt as they have a separate chamber to catch stray embers.

The burning of wood or other solid fuel in a device is not allowed within 25 feet of combustible structures unless within an approved permanent fireplace, Conditions which could cause a fire to spread within 25 feet of a structure or to vegetation shall be eliminated prior to ignition.

California Fire Code

However, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule.

  1. Your city or county has the ultimate say over the legality of fire pits and campfires as local conditions such as air quality and fire risk vary
  2. Wood fires are not allowed in Wildfire Risk Areas (WRA) or Wildland-Urban Interface Areas (WUI)

Are Fire Pits Legal in Los Angeles?

burn map in Los Angeles
Burn Map of Los Angeles, Image Source: South Coast Air Quality Management District

Fire pits are legal in Los Angeles county as long as it’s not a “No Burn Day”. When a No Burn Day is announced, residential wood-burning fireplaces, stoves, and outdoor fire pits are banned for 24 hours.

To see if today is a No Burn Day in LA county, check this map by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. You can also sign up for alerts to help determine when you can burn.

For more information about burn bans and permits, visit the Los Angeles County Fire Department website.

How to Check if Fire Pits or Campfires Are Allowed in Your Area

Because fire pits and campfires are ultimately up to your city and county, it’s recommended to reach out to them via your local fire department. They’ll provide you with local regulations for your fire pit or campfire along with any current burn bans.

Here’s how to contact them:

  1. Contact your local fire department. You can find their phone number by Googling your county and “fire department phone number”.
  2. If they are allowed, double-check your county’s website for any active burn bans before using your fire pit

Fire Pit Rules

Recreational Fires vs Open Burning

an open burn fire

According to the Ventura County Fire Department, a recreational fire is an outdoor fire (such as a fire pit or campfire) with a maximum area of 3 feet wide and 2 feet in height. In Wildland Fire Areas, the maximum area is 2 feet wide.

Recommended: How to Calculate Fire Pit Size, Dimensions, & More

Open burning does not include recreational fires and is generally referring to burning trash without an enclosed chamber. This is common for work-related fires. Open burning typically requires permits while recreational fires such as fire pits, outdoor fireplaces, and campsites don’t.

Burn Bans

air pollution in los angeles

Burn bans are temporary bans by the county for most fire types. This is either to preserve air quality or reduce the risk of fire in times of drought or other extreme conditions. Before using your fire pit or fireplace, check if there’s an active burn ban on your county’s website.

For example, for us in Ventura, there’s a current ban burn active (also called a “Red Flag Warning”). Different counties might have different names for burn bans.

Most county fire departments have a Twitter account and release updates such as this, so following your fire department’s account is helpful.

When a Red Flag Warning is active in Ventura County, additional fire rules are enforced. In this case, fire pits and campfires are banned.

“[During a Red Flag Warning] Burn permits are cancelled, and all burning is banned countywide.”

Ventura County Fire Department

To see if your county has an active burn ban, visit the CA.gov website for Cal Fire Burn Permits. Keep in mind you’ll still need to contact your local fire department to check if burning is allowed in your specific area.

There are also 2 levels of burn bans. Here’s how the USDA Forest Service defines them:

Stage 1 Burn Ban

During stage 1 burn bans, the following acts are prohibited until further notice:

  1. Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire except within a designated recreation site, or on their own land, and only within an owner-provided fire structure (see definition).
  2. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, building, or designated recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

Stage 2 Burn Ban

During stage 2 burn bans, the following acts are prohibited until further notice:

  1. Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, or stove fire.
  2. Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a designated recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.
  3. Operating motorized vehicles off designated roads and trails in accordance with existing travel management plans.
  4. The following acts are prohibited from 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. A patrol is required for one hour following cessation of all work as described in a, b and c below.
    1. Operating a chainsaw or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine for felling, bucking, skidding, processing, road building, and woodcutting during industrial operations or fire wood gathering.
    2. Blasting, welding, or other activities that generate flame or flammable material.
    3. Using an explosive.

Are Fire Pits Included in Burn Bans?

a wood fire pit with trapezoidal blocks

According to the USDA Forest Service, backyard fire pits and campfires are banned in stage 1 and 2 burn bans. To check if your county has an active burn ban and which types of burning are allowed, contact your local fire department. There are some exceptions to burn bans such as burning on developed recreational land.

For context, a developed recreational site is a privately owned commercial campground, tribal, or agency-owned campground or picnic area.

In regards to backyard fire pit use, here’s what the USDA Forest Service says,

“Personally owned charcoal grills, fire pans, wood or charcoal fueled “sheep herder” stoves etc. are restricted when we are in Stage I fire restrictions.”

USDA Forest Service

In this context, “fire pan” is the same as “fire pit”, so, fire pits are prohibited in stage 1 and 2 burn bans.

Gas fire pits are allowed in stage 1 and 2 burn bans as long as they’re solely burning propane (liquid or gas).

Recommended: Can You Cook on a Gas Fire Pit? (S’mores, Hot Dogs, & More)

Remember, there are exceptions to both stages of burn bans, so make sure to check the USDA Forest Service Fire Restrictions FAQ and contact your local fire department for more information.

Safety Tips

Before making a fire pit or campfire, check out these safety tips by the Ventura County Fire Department:

  • Obtain permission from the property owner or make sure a fire is permitted.
  • Keep your fire to a manageable size. A small fire is easier to control.
  • Clear away flammable vegetation such as leaves and sticks, overhanging low branches, and shrubs.
  • Maintain separation from structures and combustibles, at least 25 feet.
  • Never leave the fire unattended at any time. Fires should be closely monitored by a responsible adult so that everyone can remain safe.
  • Keep a bucket of water, fire extinguisher, shovel, or garden hose nearby.
  • Pour lots of water on the fire. Drown ALL embers, not just the red ones. Pour water until all hissing sounds stop. Continue to add water and stir with a shovel until all material is cool.
  • Never: Burn trash, rubbish, garbage, or yard waste as it is prohibited by law.

I will add when keeping a hose nearby, to have the water already turned on for quick access. A bucket of sand is also helpful if you need to smother the fire to extinguish it.

Sources

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