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Open Burning

Open Outdoor Burning

The Air District regulates open burning through a combination of the California Health & Safety Code, Section 41800 et seq, Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations, Regulation III of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District and various local ordinances.

The District encourages people to find alternatives to open burning for vegetation disposal.  Chipping, composting, hauling and curbside green waste pickup (such as through Waste Management at 274-3090 in western Nevada County) are all popular alternatives.  Nonetheless, the Air District understands that open burning is the most cost-effective, time-efficient and resource-protective way for many people in Nevada, Sierra and Plumas County to dispose of unwanted brush and limbs.  For information on the Nevada County chipping program, call the Fire Safe Council at 272-1122.  For information on the Plumas County chipping program contact the Plumas County Fire Safe Council Chipping Program Manager Gary Parque at or visit their website here.

Visit our Alternatives to Open Burning page for more clean air options to open burning.

NEVER BURN GARBAGE.  Materials such as plastic, plywood, painted or treated wood, Styrofoam and so forth are illegal to burn because burning them emits toxins into the air that can cause an assortment of ailments, including headaches, learning disabilities in children, and various forms of cancer.

Residential Burning 

Residential open burning is strictly that burning conducted at a single or two family residence for routine residential maintenance. The rules vary with the time of year and your fire district. In general, here is what you need to know:

  • You must always check the Burn Day Status to see if it is a burn day.  Burn day information is also available by telephone (see the bottom of the Burn Day Status page).
  • Burn only natural vegetation – no plywood, no OSB, no painted or treated wood, no plastic, no paper or cardboard, no waste oil, no clothing, no insulation, no carpet, no diapers, no garbage.  An exception to this is that a small amount of newspaper, lighter fluid or gas/diesel blend may be used (carefully) for ignition.
  • You are not allowed to create a smoke nuisance for anyone (and could be cited if you do).
  • Vegetation to be burned must be stacked loosely to ensure good combustion.  Therefore, it is illegal to burn stumps in place.
  • Material may not be transported from one property to another for the purpose of disposing of it through open burning.
  • It is illegal to burn in a barrel or anything that functions as a burn barrel (see below).
  • Recommended burn pile size is no greater than 4 ft. by 4 ft.
  • In Western Nevada County, burn piles cannot be mainly leaves and pine needles.
  • If you live within any city limit, then you may need a burn permit from the local fire department. Burning is prohibited in Nevada City and City of Grass Valley.  Otherwise, the burn day number for your area will tell you if burn permits are required.  Local fire agencies typically require burn permits when fire danger warrants special precautions, such as in the late spring and early fall.
  • If you intend to do any burning whatsoever beyond a pile of brush and limbs resulting from routine residential maintenance, then you will probably need an Air Pollution Permit and need to contact the Air District for clear direction.

Unfortunately, it can be far more complicated than what we have told you here.  To be absolutely sure, please don’t hesitate to call the Air District.

Prescribed Fire or Project Burns 

All burning that is not “Residential” requires an Air Pollution Permit from the Air District. The types of burns that require an this permit can be:

Forest Management
  • includes, but is not limited to, timber harvest slash burning and prescribed fire.
Burns greater than 10 acres in size require a Smoke Management Plan.Land Clearing for Development
  • includes, but is not limited to, any burning done on any property being developed for commercial or residential use.
  • includes, but is not limited to, burning of crop residue, prunings or brush in preparation of crop planting.
Range Improvement
  • includes, but is not limited to, any burning done to improve graze of management of a livestock operation.
Ditch, Road and Right-of-Way Maintenance
  • includes, but is not limited to, fires used by a public agency or utility to maintain levees, ditches, reservoirs, roadways and the like.
Hazard Reduction:
  • includes, but is not limited to, burning of vegetation in compliance with State or local law or ordinance to reduce a fire hazard.

Unfortunately – again, it can be far more complicated than what we have told you here, so to be absolutely sure, please don’t hesitate to call the Air District.

Air Pollution Permit

Click on the Air Pollution Permit link below to view a sample of an Air Pollution Permit for project burns. If you so desire, you may print out the sample permit, fill in as many blanks as you can and include it with your Smoke Management Plan when you are applying for a permit. The actual permit will be filled out by the Air District staff and signed by both the Air District staff person and the permit applicant or their representative. Remember, you do not have a valid Air Pollution Permit until this office has a signed original on file.

Sample Air Pollution Permit for Open Burning Projects
  • (This is only a sample permit. Do not fill it in and send it to us with your payment. It is available to you so that you will know what information we need from you. You must talk to an Air District employee before you can obtain a legal Air Pollution Permit.)

No Burn Day Authorization

Click here to obtain an Authorization to Burn on a No Burn DaySee Also: Fee Schedule for Air Pollution Permits for Open Burning
A burning fire inside a metal barrel.

Burn Barrels and Paper-Burning Banned

The use of burn barrels and the burning of paper for disposal are PROHIBITED throughout all of Plumas, Sierra and Nevada County by the statewide Outdoor Residential Waste Burning Airborne Toxic Control Measure.

See for additional information.

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