Burn Permits Released

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 14, 2023

Cool temperatures and early rains have reduced fire dangers enough that the County fire department decide to lift a suspension on burn permits, as SLO County gets a few months reprieve from the seemingly endless fire season.

Cal Fire/SLO County Fire announced that it was lifting a permit suspension it enacted earlier this year due to high fire danger. 

“Cal Fire San Luis Obispo Unit Chief John Owens,” reads a news release, “is formally cancelling the burn permit suspension and advises that those possessing current and valid agriculture and residential burn permits can now resume burning on permissible burn days.”

This announcement isn’t a license to just fire up any old burn pile. “Agriculture burns must be inspected by Cal Fire prior to burning until the end of the peak fire season,” the announcement reads. “Inspections may be required for burns other than agriculture burns. This can be verified by contacting San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District.”

While the fire department must do the inspections, it’s APCD that issues permits.

Most burn permits are issued to agriculture operations that burn things like clippings from orchards and can only be done on so-called “burn days.” 

“Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and the chance of winter weather have helped to begin to diminish the threat of wildfire,” the announcement said. “Property owners and residents are asked to use caution while conducting debris or agriculture burns, follow all guidelines provided, and maintain control of the fire, at all times.”

If your controlled burn gets loose, you’ll be the one that gets burned. “Individuals can be held civilly and/or criminally liable for allowing a fire to escape their control and/or burn onto neighboring property.”

Besides ag burn permits, there are also so-called “backyard burn permits,” but they too have conditions. For example, one must live outside of town. “To qualify for a Backyard, Burn Permit you must occupy a single family or duplex residence outside of cities and URL/VRL [urban] areas.”

Even ag burning is strictly regulated. “Agricultural burning may only be conducted by agricultural operations that derive income from the growing of crops or the raising of animals or, vegetation, forest, or range management.”

And to be clear, you must get a permit from both Cal Fire and APCD for an agricultural burn. Requirements include:

• Only dry, natural vegetative material such as leaves, pine needles and tree trimmings may be burned;

• The burning of trash, painted wood or other debris is not allowed; 

• Do NOT burn on windy days;

• Piles should be no larger than 4-feet in diameter and in height. You can add to pile as it burns down; 

• Clear a 10-foot diameter down to bare soil around your piles; 

• Have a shovel and a water source nearby; and, 

• An adult is required to be in attendance of the fire at all times. 

Though it sends lots of black smoke into the air, burning is apparently a valuable tool when done right.

“Safe residential pile burning of forest residue by landowners is a crucial tool in reducing fire hazards,” the announcement said. “State, Federal and Local land management and fire agencies will also be utilizing this same window of opportunity to conduct prescribed burns aimed at improving forest health and resiliency on private and public lands.”

And with the ban lifting it didn’t take long for the County to strike a match. Cal Fire/County Fire announced that from Dec. 4-8 it would be burning some 200 piles of debris “above the Cayucos Cemetery” in conjunction with landowners and overseen by firefighters. The fire department said it’s necessary.

“Prescribed burning,” reads an announcement from Cal Fire spokeswoman, Toni Davis, “is an important tool used to minimize fire hazards and the likelihood of uncontrolled future wildfires that would have the potential to induce significant air quality impacts on the local community. Should conditions not be suitable for good consumption and optimal smoke dispersal, the burn will be rescheduled.” 

Readers with burn permits can check the APCD website to see if weather conditions are OK to proceed on a given day, see: SLOCleanAir.org.

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