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.