• Nicole Cook

Navigating Maryland’s Open Burn Laws


Branches burning in open field
Source: Clarksville Now

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Burning things like trees, brush, residual crop vegetation, fertilizer bags, wood chips used for livestock bedding, bailing twine, even garbage can be a regular part of operating a farm. But, navigating Maryland’s laws governing open burning can be confusing. And, if you get it wrong, it can be costly. Keep reading for information about complying on your farm with Maryland’s open burn laws.

Start At: MDE’s Regulations Must Allow It


All open fires in Maryland are regulated under Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Air Quality Regulations. Depending on what’s being burned, where and how it’s being burned, and also why it’s being burned, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and/or Maryland’s Department of Health (MDH) may also be involved, as may other local officials. But, whenever you’re planning to do an open burn, the starting point is always that, under MDE’s regulations, no one can cause or permit an “open fire” except as specifically provided by MDE’s regulations. (COMAR 26.11.07.02). An “open fire” is “a fire where any material is burned in the open or in a receptacle other than a furnace, incinerator, or other equipment connected to a stack or chimney.” (COMAR 26.11.07.01)

Open Fires Allowed Without Authorization from Control Officer or Public Officer


MDE’s regulations do permit certain open fires to happen without a permit. (COMAR 26.11.07.05) Remember, though, that this is only if you are in compliance all other fire control ordinances. It is prudent to check with your county office before you burn. You can often find information about your county’s requirements online. For example, Montgomery County has a comprehensive webpage with information about open burning in the county.


In Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Frederick, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, and Worchester counties, you may set fires without a permit from MDE as long as the burning is in the course of agricultural operations in growing crops or raising fowl or animals or in accepted forestry practice, but you may not burn ordinary household or barnyard trash unless you live in an area where there’s no public collection of such trash.


You may also use oil or gas fired salamanders or similar devices designated specifically for space heating or warming outdoor workers, etc., provided no visible emissions are created, and you may have warming fires for outdoor workers, provided smoke emissions are not darker in shade or appearance than those designated as greater than 40 percent opacity and the fires are located no closer than 200 feet (61 meters) from any neighboring habitable building.


In those counties, you can also burn leaves and ordinary household trash in open fires without a permit from MDE as long as no nuisance or air pollution is created and:


(1) Regarding leaves, you are in an area where there’s no public collection of leaves, the leaves originated on the property, and you’re not burning closer than 200 feet (61 meters) from any neighboring home or place where people work or congregate;


(2) Regarding household trash, you are in an area where there’s no public collection of refuse, the trash originated on the premises, the house is not a commercial establishment, you’re not burning materials that create dense smoke (emissions of greater than 40 percent opacity), and you’re not burning closer than 200 feet (61 meters) from any neighboring home or place where people work or congregate.


In Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City open fires are only allowed without permission from September 1 of any year through May 31 of the following year, and only for households, provided no nuisance or air pollution is created, and:


(1) Only for leaves if there’s no public collection of leaves, the leaves originated on the property, and the fires are located no closer than 300 feet (91.4 meters) from any neighboring home or place where people work or congregate;


(2) Only for ordinary household trash if there’s no public collection of refuse, the trash originated on the premises, the house isn’t a commercial establishments, you’re not burning materials that create dense smoke (emissions of greater than 40 percent opacity), and you’re not burning closer than 300 feet (91.4 meters) from any neighboring home or place where people work or congregate;


(3) Only for oil or gas fired salamanders or similar devices designated specifically for space heating or warming of outdoor workers, etc., provided no visible emissions are created.


In Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City, open burning is prohibited during the period from June 1 through August 31 of each year except for fires permitted or set by public officers with control officer concurrence (see next).

Open Fires Permitted Or Set By Public Officers With Control Officer Concurrence


Under COMAR 26.11.07.04, public officers may set an open fire or may give permission for an open fire if the control officer agrees, all reasonable means are employed to minimize smoke, and the fire is (1) necessary for burning pest-infested crops or products or is agricultural burning that is necessary for animal disease control, (2) for good forest resource management practices as approved by DNR, or (3) for burning excessive lodging for the purpose of recropping as approved by the Maryland Department of Agriculture or local extension offices. "Excessive lodging" means a condition of farmland where embedding of the previous crop causes the normal use of harvesting, tillage, or planting equipment to be impossible or impracticable. (COMAR 2611.07.01) There are other instances when a public officer may set an open fire or give permission for an open fire, but they involve reducing fire hazards or training for fire fighters.

Control Officer May Authorize Certain Open Fires


Depending on the county and under certain conditions, under COMAR 26.11.07.03, a control officer can authorize certain open fires.


In Allegany, Caroline, Dorchester, Garrett, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, St. Mary's, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico, and Worcester counties, the control officer can issue a permit allowing an open fire as long as all of the following conditions are met:


(1) There is no practical alternate method to dispose of the material to be burned or to conduct the desired activities;


(2) The burning will not create a hazardous condition, air pollution or a nuisance;


(3) Fire control laws or regulations of other governmental agencies will not be violated;


(4) Materials which produce dense smoke when burned, including, but not limited to, tires and roofing material, will not be burned; and


(5) The material to be burned will have originated on the premises on which it is to be burned.


In Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City, the control officer can issue or approve a permit allowing an open fire during the period September 1 through May 31 of the following year as long as all of the following conditions are met:


(1) There is no practical alternate method for the disposal of the material to be burned or to conduct the desired activity;


(2) The burning will not create a hazardous condition, air pollution or a nuisance;


(3) Fire control laws or regulations of other governmental agencies will not be violated;


(4) Materials which produce dense smoke when burned, including, but not limited to, tires and roofing material, will not be burned;


(5) The material to be burned shall have originated on the premises on which it is to be burned; and


(6) In Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City, the burning will not be done within 500 yards (457 meters) of one or more occupied buildings or heavily travelled public roadway. A permit may, however, be granted for fires set in the course of agricultural operations in growing crops or raising fowl or animals or in accepted forestry practice, when distance limitations cannot be met. Note, though, that that does not mean that the burning of ordinary household or barnyard trash is allowed if you’re in an area where there is public collection of refuse.

Contact your local control officer or your local fire control agency for information about how to get an application.


What About Burning Waste That Results From Forest Management?


Outside of the limits of incorporated towns, waste from forest management is silvicultural or agricultural waste, and can be burned on-site where it’s generated as long as the burning is done in compliance with DNR’s regulations under COMAR 08.07.04 (see below) and, of course, all of the other requirements of State and local authorities (see above). If you’re going to be burning in woodland, within 200 feet of woodland, or in an area where there are flammable materials that could ignite and carry fire to woodland, then, under COMAR 08.07.04.03A, you can burn waste from a forest in an open air burn as long as:


(1) There is a natural or constructed fire break at least 10 feet wide completely around the material to be burned that is free of flammable materials;


(2) Adequate personnel and equipment are present to prevent the fire from escaping;


(3) At least one responsible person remains at the location of the fire until the last spark is out; and


(4) the burning occurs between the hours of 4 p.m. and 12 midnight, except that when the ground is covered with snow the burning may occur at any time so long as all other requirements are met.


For any open air burn (or prescribed burn) that doesn’t comply with each and every one of these requirements, you will need to submit a plan to DNR and obtain a permit from DNR. (COMAR 0.07.04.03B)


And lastly, you may not dispose of flammable material in a disposal area (sanitary landfill or similar public or private disposal facility) by open air burning, unless there is a cleared strip, free of all flammable material, around the disposal area at least 100 feet wide measured horizontally, and unless a permit has been issued by DNR. (COMAR 08.07.04.04)


DNR has information on open air burning on its webpage.


What About Solid Waste?


If what you’re going to be burning is “solid waste,” then, in addition to the above regulations, you must also comply with the solid waste regulations under COMAR 26.04.07 and, of course, any other state or federal regulations.


Solid waste is any garbage, refuse, sludge, or liquid from industrial, commercial, mining, or agricultural operations or from community activities. It includes scrap tires, organic material that’s capable of being composted but which is not composted in accordance with regulations, or recyclable materials that aren’t being recycled. (§ 9-101) Solid waste also includes land clearing debris such as stumps, limbs, logs, and brush, and construction and demolition debris derived from dwellings and other structures.


Pursuant to COMAR 26.04.07.03A, a person may not engage in solid waste handling that, among other things:


  • creates a nuisance, including encouraging insect or rodent infestation or wild animals

  • pollutes the air

  • causes a non-permitted discharge of pollutants to waters of the State

  • impairs the quality of the environment; or

  • creates other hazards to the public health, safety, or comfort as may be determined by MDE.


Of course, you also must be burning for your use and your use alone. You cannot be collecting or accepting waste from others. There are strict regulations about operating as a public disposal, salvage, or waste facility. In addition, the burn sites constitute an unpermitted open dump unless the ash and other residuals are removed to a proper disposal site.


More information about open burning of solid waste can be found in MDE’s Fact Sheet.


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