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Burning things like trees, residuals crops, fertilizer bags, livestock bedding, and even garbage can be a routine part of operating a farm. But, navigating Maryland’s laws governing open burning can be confusing, and costly if you get it wrong. It is always prudent to check with local authorities before you burn, but here’s some information that can help you know what to ask them.

Maryland Department of the Environment Regulations Must Allow It

All open fires in Maryland are regulated under Maryland Department of the Environment Air Quality Regulations.

Depending on what’s being burned, where and how it’s being burned, and also why it’s being burned, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of Health may also be involved, as may other local officials.

But, whenever you’re planning an open burn, the starting point is always that, under Department of the Environment’s regulations, no one can cause or permit an “open fire” except as specifically provided by the department’s regulations.

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.”

Open Fires That Are Allowed Without A Permit

The Environment Department’s regulations do allow certain open fires without a permit; only, however, if you are in compliance with all other fire control ordinances. You can often find information about your county’s fire control requirements online.

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 the Environment Department 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 used specifically for space heating or warming outdoor workers, 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% opacity and the fires are located no closer than 200 feet from any neighboring habitable building.

In those counties, you can also burn leaves and ordinary household trash in open fires without a permit from the Environment Department 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 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% opacity), and you’re not burning closer than 200 feet 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 Sept. 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 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 establishment, you’re not burning materials that create dense smoke (emissions of greater than 40% opacity), and you’re not burning closer than 300 feet from any neighboring home or place where people work or congregate;

3. Only for oil- or gas-fired salamanders or similar devices specifically for space heating or warming of outdoor workers, 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 from June 1 through Aug. 31 except for fires permitted or set by public officers with control officer concurrence.

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

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: necessary for burning pest-infested crops or products or is agricultural burning that is necessary for animal disease control; for good forest resource management practices as approved by the Department of Natural Resources; or for burning excessive lodging for the purpose of recropping as approved by the 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.

Control Officer May Authorize Certain Open Fires

Depending on the county and under certain conditions, 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 alternative 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;

5. The materials to be burned originated on the premises where they are being 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 from Sept. 1 through May 31 of the following year as long as all of the following conditions are met:

1. There is no practical alternative 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 materials to be burned originated on the premises where they are being burned;

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 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. That does not mean, however, 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.

Nicole Cook is an environmental and agricultural faculty legal specialist with the Agriculture Law Education Initiative at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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