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DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
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Debris Burning

Careless trash and debris burning ignites a tremendous number of wildfires every year in Montana. Most people never intend to start a wildfire, but even the best of intentions can produce disastrous results when safety precautions aren't taken. We owe it to our neighbors and ourselves to help prevent accidental wildfires from occurring.

Safe disposal of leaves and brush piles will eliminate a major wildfire threat. If you must burn debris, do it safely. Observe the fire safety tips outlined below.

Check local laws and ordinances.

Does your county require a Burn Permit?

Does your county allow burning Between November 30 and March 1?

The months of December, January, and February are typically characterized by poor air dispersion and ventilation, especially in Western Montana. Burners are responsible for determining favorable conditions if they conduct burning.

View the Montana Burning Periods


Are restrictions in effect? During periods of elevated fire danger, fire restrictions may ban any open fire including campfires. Visit to find out if restrictions are in effect in your area.

The following counties have additional open burning regulations




Cascade County



Flathead County


Flathead County Ventilation 
open burning hotline



Lewis & Clark County



Lincoln County


Butte-Silver Bow County


406-782-4224 x600

Yellowstone County



Missoula County


Burning Brochure

Missoula County Fire 
Protection Agency Website


Consider alternatives to burning.

Some types of debris, such as leaves, grass and stubble may be of more value if they are not burned. Composting can yield valuable organic matter that can be used to enrich the soil, while helping extend the useful life of landfills.

Don't burn outdoors during dry, windy weather when vegetation in the vicinity is dry and fire-prone.

It may only take a very small spark or burning ember to ignite dry vegetation. Winds may not only carry the burning material into surrounding vegetation but also fan the flames and spread the fire rapidly. Visit prior to burning to check weather conditions. 

Be sure to watch for RED FLAG WARNINGS. Red Flag Warning means high fire danger with increased probability of a quickly spreading vegetation fire occuring.

Stay informed about possible weather changes.

Gusty winds and changes in wind direction often accompany the passage of weather fronts. Thunderstorms may also generate strong gusts and downdrafts. Outdoor burning should be postponed when gusty winds are present or expected to occur during the time that burning would be in progress.

Before you burn contact your local fire department to let them know of your plans.

You can find out if it is safe to burn outdoors, if restrictions are in effect or if burn permits are required.


Stay with your fire.

Should your fire escape, you may be able to stop its spread before it becomes large enough to require additional personnel and equipment to contain it.

Consider composting or mulching.

Leaves can be composted to produce organically rich soil amendments for gardens and flowerbeds. Branches and larger brush can be chipped and the resultant mulch used in flowerbeds to help hold moisture in the soil. Check for community recycling or chipping projects before opting to burn these materials.

Establish wide firebreaks around piles of leaves and brush to be burned.

Firebreaks should be free of vegetation and wide enough to contain burning embers that may fall or roll from the pile. The larger the pile to be burned, the wider the firebreak should be.

Keep debris piles small, gradually adding to the fires as they burn down.

Adding fuel gradually will keep fire intensity lower and lessen the chances that material will roll or be lofted over firebreaks into flammable vegetation. Large piles of burning debris generate intense heat capable of carrying relatively heavy burning embers up and away from the fire, perhaps far from the original fire.

Select burn locations away from overhanging branches and utility lines.

Intense heat rising from a fire could ignite leaves and branches of trees or damage overhead lines and disrupt essential utility services.

Keep water and equipment handy.

Have an available supply of water on hand to use in case your fire should get away. Mechanized equipment may be necessary to contain fires arising from brush pile burning, as embers may be blown farther from the fire and have more time to grow into an uncontrollable wildfire before you can get to the spot fire.


Debris burning generates smoke which may create or contribute to poor air quality. For some individuals, smoke is merely a nuisance, but for others, smoke is a dangerous pollutant triggering serious respiratory problems. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regulates smoke emissions from open burning to prevent and/or reduce air quality impacts. The DEQ's rulesprovide direction for homeowners conducting open burning.