Bonfire bylaws: Home Ownership Matters – 3 Common Backyard Fire Pit Laws and Regulations Homeowners Should Know

Home Ownership Matters – 3 Common Backyard Fire Pit Laws and Regulations Homeowners Should Know

By Tanya Svoboda

October 2020

Our backyards are where we go to relax and unwind, host parties, and connect with our families. As the end of summer approaches, cooler weather begins to creep in, and we continue to look for ways to gather outside at a safe social distance, the idea of a backyard fire pit is appealing to many homeowners.

Adding a fire pit to your backyard is not only a great way to increase your yard’s chill factor but it can also increase your home’s value. Consumers responding in The National Association of REALTORS® 2018 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features gave the addition of a fire feature a perfect 10 Joy Score rating. This rating is based on the happiness homeowners reported with the addition of a specific outdoor project. The same report noted a fire feature provides an average of 67% return on investment for homeowners.

But, before you break out the Adirondack chairs and s’mores fixings, be sure to check with your city or county’s fire department and your homeowner’s associate for any restrictions you may be up against.

Common Backyard Fire Pit Laws and Regulations

Most cities and towns allow small recreational fires. A recreational fire is usually defined as a campfire, bonfire, or backyard fire in a fire pit. Many recreational fire regulations are in place to remain courteous to your neighbors, but others exist to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.

While every town is different, here are three common fire pit laws and regulations you should know about before adding a fire pit to your yard.

1. Location Guidelines

Whether you’re looking to add a portable fire pit or a permanent structure, you’ll need to consider the placement carefully. Portable fire pits need to be placed on fire-resistant surfaces like a brick patio or over stone pavers. Flying embers can be a fire risk if you put your portable fire pit directly onto your grass or place it on a wooden deck.

Both portable and permanent fire pits should be placed at least 10 feet away from the property line. You will also need to place or build your pit in an area free from low hanging branches and other potentially flammable landscaping elements. In fact, many areas have laws requiring 25 feet between the fire pit and your house, shed, vehicle, deck, or other combustible materials.

Your town or homeowner’s association may also require a site inspection if you plan to build a permanent fire pit. In areas prone to wildfire, your homeowner’s insurance may require you to disclose your fire pit. You should check with local fire officials before you begin your project to avoid costly mistakes.

2. Burn Material Restrictions

The burning of certain materials can result in dangerous and foul-smelling gases. The article Are Backyard Fire Pits Legal? notes, “Smoke, chemicals, and poisonous gases are not only offensive; they are dangerous to those sitting near the fire, people in the vicinity, and the wildlife in the area.

Common materials like paper, magazines, and particleboard may seem like harmless kindling but burning these materials can lead to excessive smoke and release toxins from adhesive or ink. Similarly, burning the incorrect foliage like poison ivy, oak or sumac, or even green leafy branches can lead to serious lung irritation and should be avoided.

Burning clean, dry, and split firewood is generally accepted in all counties. Woods like oak, hickory, ash, and cedar are great choices for a backyard fire pit.

3. Supervision Regulations

Most counties and homeowners associations require that a fire be supervised by an adult the entire time it is burning. “This means even if you are 25 feet away working on a project in your garage,” the Backyard Scape article notes, “you are still violating fire safety regulations.”

Shifting winds can put your neighbor’s property and your own property in danger. You may find that local ordinances prohibit a backyard fire during high wind conditions. The general unpredictability of the weather is an important reason for regulations requiring constant supervision.

Your duty to supervise your backyard fire doesn’t end when the flames die down. Leftover embers can retain enough heat overnight that a strong gust of wind can kick the fire back up again. When you’re finished enjoying your backyard fire, you can spread out the coals and stir them with dirt or sand to ensure they are completely extinguished. Burying your hot coals will retain the heat, so instead, stir them frequently and sprinkle on soil or sand until they are no longer hot. Alternatively, you can place the embers in a metal container and douse them with water.

Adding a fire pit to your yard is an outdoor feature you can use year-round, it’s an instant party starter, and it can up the value of your home. Just be mindful of local laws and regulations before you start your fire pit project and you’ll be licking your sticky s’more fingers in no time.


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Bonfire Guidelines | Fire and Rescue

Permit Required: Register Thru PLUS


This page outlines the Fire Prevention Code fire safety requirements and prohibitions as well as permit application and inspection scheduling information related to bonfires conducted within Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna. This publication does not address recreational fires, controlled burning, charcoal grills and open-flame cooking devices, or portable outdoor fireplaces. 


Questions regarding the content of this publication should be directed to the Fire Inspections Branch at 703-246-4849 during regular office hours, Monday thru Friday, 8:00 a. m. to 4:30 p.m.



A bonfire is a constantly attended outdoor fire utilized primarily for ceremonial purposes that has a fuel area greater than 3 feet in diameter and greater than 2 feet in height. The size of the bonfire (i.e., quantity of fuel or fuel area) may be limited at the discretion of the Fire Marshal. A bonfire is a form of open burning and requires a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP). 
OPEN BURNING DEFINED. The Fire Prevention Code defines “open burning” as the burning of materials wherein products of combustion are emitted directly into the ambient air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber. Open burning does not include road flares, smudgepots and similar devices associated with safety or occupational uses typically considered open flames, recreational fires or use of portable outdoor fireplaces. For the purpose of this definition, a chamber shall be regarded as enclosed when, during the time combustion occurs, only apertures, ducts, stacks, flues or chimneys necessary to provide combustion air and permit the escape of exhaust gas are open.



In accordance with Section 307.2 of the Fire Prevention Code (as amended by Fairfax County), if under the requirements of the County of Fairfax Air Pollution Control Chapter (Chapter 103, Fairfax County Code) open burning is allowed, a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) for a bonfire shall be obtained from the Fire Marshal for each location. A permit may be valid for up to 10 days for a single location and may be renewed upon application to the Fire Marshal. This permit requirement does not apply to recreational fires, fire set for the training of firefighters under the direction of the Chief of the Fire Department, or fire set by a public health or safety officer where a health or fire hazard cannot be abated by any other means.
PERMIT APPLICATION. Complete a Fire Prevention Code Permit (FPCP) application in PLUS for a bonfire and include the documentation or information listed below. 

The following documentation or information must be submitted with the FPCP application:

  1. Property Owner Consent. A letter from the owner of the property granting the applicant permission to kindle a bonfire on said property must accompany the FPCP application. A bonfire shall be prohibited on the property of another without the express written permission of the property owner. 
  2. Site Plan. A plat or site plan of the property shall be provided with the FPCP application and shall show the following information:
    • Proposed location of the bonfire.
    • Location of all utilities such as gas meters and overhead power lines.
    • Location of all structures and woodlands within 50 feet of the burn location.
    • Location of the two closest fire hydrants and all fire department access routes.



Ready to Burn? When the bonfire is ready to commence, you must first arrange for a site inspection with the Fire Marshal.  Burning may not commence until a valid FPCP for a bonfire has been issued. Follow these steps:

  1. Schedule a Site Inspection. The site inspection must be conducted no later than 4:00 p.m. on the day of the bonfire event, and must be scheduled at least one business day prior to the day of the bonfire. Schedule a site inspection in PLUS once your FPCP has been issued.
  2. Notify Public Safety Communications. Notification is a condition of the permit and may help reduce unnecessary emergency responses by the fire department. Thirty (30) minutes prior to the start of a bonfire, and only after approval has been granted by the Fire Marshal in the form of a valid permit (FPCP), contact the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications (DPSC) at 703-691-2131 and provide/obtain the following information:
    • Provide the address/location of the bonfire
    • Provide the permit number.
    • Provide the approximate duration of the bonfire (3 hours maximum).
    • Obtain the event number for the notification and record it on your permit.
    • Advise DPSC that you will call at the conclusion of the bonfire event confirming that all burning activities have stopped.
  3. Post-Burn Requirements. At the conclusion of the bonfire event, be sure the fire is completely extinguished and notify DPSC at 703-691-2131 that burning has stopped.

Spot Inspections. Periodic spot inspections may be conducted by the Fire Marshal and/or the fire department to ensure compliance with fire safety requirements. 



In addition to the general prohibitions and forestry-related requirements and prohibitions listed below, the following fire safety requirements apply to bonfires conducted in Fairfax County and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna: 

  1. Property Owner Permission. Bonfires may only be conducted with the property owner’s permission. No person shall kindle nor authorize to be kindled nor maintain any bonfire in such a manner that will endanger the property of another.
  2. Distance from Combustibles. Bonfires shall not be conducted within 50 feet of a structure or combustible material. Conditions which could cause a fire to spread within 50 feet of a structure shall be eliminated prior to ignition.
  3. Fuel Area Limitation. A bonfire should not have a total fuel area greater than 5′ x 5′ x 5′.
  4. Allowable Fuels. Allowable Fuels. Burn only dry, well-seasoned firewood or similar clean burning wood. Land-clearing waste and/or refuse shall not be used as a fuel for a bonfire.
  5. Time Limitation. A bonfire should not burn longer than 3 hours.
  6. Attendance. Fires shall be constantly attended until completely extinguished. A smoldering fire is not completely extinguished and should never be left unattended.
  7. Means of Extinguishment. A minimum of one portable fire extinguisher with a minimum 4-A rating or other approved on-site fire-extinguishing equipment, such as dirt, sand, water barrel, garden hose or water truck, shall be available for immediate utilization.  



Endangering Property Prohibited. In accordance with Section 307.5.1 of the Fire Prevention Code (as amended by Fairfax County), no person shall kindle, authorize to be kindled, or maintain any permitted (i.e., allowable) fire in such a manner that will endanger the property of another. This might include an unlawful or unsafe bonfire.
Prohibited Open Burning. In accordance with Section 307.1 of the Fire Prevention Code, a person shall not kindle or maintain or authorize to be kindled or maintained any open burning (i.e., controlled burning and bonfires) unless first approved by the Fire Marshal and conducted in accordance with the Fire Prevention Code. In addition, open burning that is offensive or objectionable because of smoke emissions or when atmospheric conditions or local circumstances make such fires hazardous shall be prohibited.
Burning of Refuse Prohibited. With the exception of the destruction and reduction of land clearing waste through an approved controlled burning operation, the burning of refuse shall be prohibited. The definition of refuse originates from Fairfax County air pollution control regulations (Chapter 103, Fairfax County Code) and shall mean and include garbage, rubbish, and trade waste defined as follows:

  • Garbage. Garbage shall mean animal and vegetable matter such as that originating in houses, kitchens, restaurants and hotels, produce markets, food service or processing establishments, greenhouses, and hospitals, clinics or veterinary facilities.
  • Rubbish. Rubbish shall mean solids not considered to be highly flammable or explosive such as, but not limited to, rags, old clothes, leather, rubber, carpets, wood, excelsior, paper, ashes, tree branches, yard trimmings, furniture, metal food containers, glass, crockery, masonry, and other similar materials.
  • Trade Waste. Trade waste shall mean all solid or liquid material resulting from construction, building operations, or the prosecution of any business, trade or industry such as, but not limited to, plastic products, cinders and other forms of solid or liquid waste materials. 

For information about the environmental and health hazards related to burning refuse, including backyard and barrel burning, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) online.

Ignitable Liquids or Hazardous Materials Prohibited. Combustible and flammable liquids, as well as other hazardous materials, shall not be used to aid the ignition of any open burning or recreational fire. Furthermore, the application, dispensing, or use of a combustible or flammable liquid, or any other hazardous material, upon or into the fuel used in any controlled burn, bonfire, or recreational fire may be considered an unauthorized release of a hazardous material and is strictly prohibited. 
Materials Producing Dense Smoke Prohibited. The burning of rubber, asphaltic materials, combustible and flammable liquids, impregnated wood or similar materials which produce dense smoke is considered objectionable, a hazard and nuisance to the community, and is prohibited. 
Hazardous Fires Prohibited. The Fire Marshal or fire department may order the immediate extinguishment of any open burning or recreational fire because of one or more of the following hazardous situations:

  •   Unattended fires
  •   Unprotected or uncontained fires deemed capable of spreading
  •   Inadequate fire extinguishing equipment/materials
  •   Combustible exposure hazards 
  •   Inappropriate or hazardous materials used as fuel
  •   Air contaminants, smoke, or other materials which may cause a traffic hazard 



4 P.M. Burn Law. During the period February 15 through April 30 of each year (Spring Wildfire Season), it shall be unlawful, in any county or city or portion thereof organized for forest fire control under the direction of the State Forester, for any person to set fire to, or to procure another to set fire to, any brush, leaves, grass, debris or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material capable of spreading fire, located in or within 300 feet of any woodland, brushland, or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material, except between the hours of 4:00 p. m. and midnight. During spring wildfire season, you are allowed to burn between 4 p.m. and midnight as long as you take proper care and precaution and attend your fire at all times. (Code of Virginia, §10.1-1142-B)
Questions about the 4 P.M. Burn Law?  
Visit the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) online.

Governor’s Burn Ban. Upon proclamation of the Governor of Virginia, it shall be unlawful for any persons to do any open burning nearer than 300 feet from any forestlands, brushlands or fields in the Commonwealth of Virginia containing dry grass or other flammable material when such locations, or any parts thereof, have become so dry as to create a serious fire hazard endangering lives and property. Furthermore, it shall be unlawful for any person to smoke, burn leaves, grass, brush or debris of any type or to ignite or maintain any open fire nearer than 300 feet from any forestlands, brushlands or fields containing inflammable vegetation or marshland adjoining such forestlands, brushlands, fields or idle or abandoned lands, when such locations, or any parts thereof, have become so dry as to create an extraordinary fire hazard. (Code of Virginia, §10.1-1158 & 1159)

Precautions against Spread of Fire. It shall be unlawful for any owner or lessee of land to set fire to, or to procure another to set fire to, any woods, brush, logs, leaves, grass, debris, or other inflammable material upon such land unless he previously has taken all reasonable care and precaution, by having cut and piled the same or carefully cleared around the same, to prevent the spread of such fire to lands other than those owned or leased by him. It shall also be unlawful for any employee of any such owner or lessee of land to set fire to or to procure another to set fire to any woods, brush, logs, leaves, grass, debris, or other inflammable material, upon such land unless he has taken similar precautions to prevent the spread of such fire to any other land. (Code of Virginia, 10.1-1142-A)
Extinguishment of Open-Air Fires. Any person who builds a fire in the open air, or uses a fire built by another in the open air, within 150 feet of any woodland, brushland or field containing dry grass or other inflammable material, shall totally extinguish the fire before leaving the area and shall not leave the fire unattended. (Code of Virginia, 10.1-1142-D)

To learn more, visit the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) online. 

Safe bonfire

Going out into nature, one way or another we become closer to it – we lose certain benefits of civilization. First of all, this concerns cooking – usually on a hike it is cooked on a fire. Yes, and it is difficult to warm up on a cool night in the forest without a fire. It is important, while receiving your portion of pleasure from communicating with nature, not to harm it itself. After all, an unextinguished or improperly lit fire often causes a forest fire.

  1. Properly prepare the fire site before lighting it
  2. Don’t make a fire under the trees
  3. Do not build a fire next to dry grass
  4. Make sure that the fire produces as few sparks as possible
  5. Do not leave an unextinguished fire unattended!
  6. Extinguish the fire thoroughly before leaving

Outdoor recreation is a very useful and interesting thing. You can organize it in a variety of ways. Many people prefer to go on a multi-day hike with tents and backpacks.

Going out into nature, one way or another, we become closer to it – we are deprived of certain benefits of civilization. First of all, this concerns cooking – you can’t carry a stove with you, although there are tourists who prefer portable spirit lamps and even stoves with small gas cylinders. But, firstly, as far as they are enough, and secondly, there is a special romance in the crackling of a fire, in the smell of smoke from freshly prepared food. Yes, and it is difficult to warm up on a cool night in the forest without a fire.

It is important, while getting your portion of pleasure from communication with nature, not to harm it. An unextinguished or improperly lit fire often causes a forest fire.

Building a fire safely and efficiently is almost a science. Many generations of hunters, warriors, and travelers have contributed their experience. There are many ways to lay out a fire so that it gives more smoke – in order to drive away mosquitoes, give a signal, or less – in order that the enemy does not notice.

An interesting feature has been noticed – it is rather difficult to make a fire. You can sit on all fours, puffing out your cheeks over the leaves of birch bark prepared in accordance with all the rules, and achieve nothing. Therefore, one of the respected skills of tourists and special forces is making a fire “from one match.” It remains only to admire our ancestors, who did this “with one blow of a flint.”

Another thing is that, surprisingly, the same one match or one spark can cause an uncontrolled flame.

In order for the fire to bring only romance and joy, you must follow the following simple rules:

  1. Carefully prepare the place for the fire.
  2. Remove the sod in the place marked for the hearth and within a radius of up to 1 meter. Fold carefully in the shade – when your unity with nature is over, and the fire is carefully extinguished, then the pieces of turf will need to be returned to their place so as not to leave burnt bald spots in the clearings as a memory of themselves. Dig a small hole in the soil: this will help keep the fire from being blown out by the wind, prevent the coals from rolling – they will lie more compactly.
  3. A place for a fire must be chosen wisely. You should not delude yourself that the sprawling branches of the Christmas tree will cover your fire from rain and wind. Much more likely that the branches will catch fire from your campfire. It is forbidden to build a fire where there is a lot of dry grass, dry stumps are located nearby, in a peat bog or under a cloth tent.
  4. Kindling a fire is difficult. But this is of particular interest. Do not try to make it easy for yourself – do not use flammable liquid for ignition (LVL). A feature of flammable liquids is the presence of volatile and combustible vapors. Therefore, you will not have time to bring a match to the kindling, as the vapors of flammable liquids that have risen above the fire will flare up – and as a result, burns to the face and hands.
  5. When serving a fire or preparing food on it, take care of your safety – hair, clothes can easily flare up. Carefully brush your hair, straighten your sleeves. Of course, you are not a runaway princess to find yourself in a forest with lace frills, but an ordinary synthetic jacket can catch fire.
  6. On a hike, you will inevitably have to dry things by the fire. Protect them from fire.
  7. Do not leave the fire unattended — remember about the flying sparks, about which the poet Y. Polonsky wrote: “My fire shines in the fog, the sparks go out on the fly.” They may not go out, but set fire to a supply of firewood, dry grass around, or even a tent.
  8. At the end of your outing, don’t forget to carefully put out the fire . Stir the coals, let them burn out. Pour the rest with water, sprinkle with soil (the same one that was taken out to the edges of the hole when the fire was deepened). Pour again with water until the wisps of smoke disappear.

Rules for making a fire in the forest – News

June 23, 2018, 13:11

Download original

There are general rules for safe campfires:

  1. Fire should be made on special sites and only if necessary. If this is a short halt, and the weather is clear and warm, there is no need to kindle a fire.
  2. Fires must be disposed of with great care.
  3. You must not allow thoughtless throwing of outstanding cigarette butts and matches on the grass.
  4. At the slightest sign of fire, urgent measures should be taken to eliminate them.
  5. If a fire occurs, you should immediately notify the forest protection service or rescuers of the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
  6. It is forbidden to light a fire during the fire season and in places where prohibition signs are posted.
  7. Making a fire in the forest must be carried out at a distance of at least three meters from the tent camp on the leeward side.
  8. Instead of one high and large fire, it is better to build several small ones, they will be more useful.
  9. Flammable objects and liquids, as well as objects soaked in gasoline, oiled with combustible materials, must not be placed near the fire. They should be kept in a strictly defined place.
  10. Water containers and branches should always be kept near the fire to extinguish a possible fire.

Building a fire in the forest: site selection

To light a fire, a careful selection of a suitable place must be made with the obligatory preparation of the site.

  • The site must be open, protected from the wind by some natural shelter, such as a large stone, rock.
  • If the weather is dry and hot, make a fire on sandy or stony soil, on green young grass or on the shore of a reservoir.
  • Fire pits must not be located near trees, especially dead wood, resinous trees, in old clearings or near trees with hollows. The distance from deciduous trees to the fire should be at least 10 m, from conifers – at least 15 m.
  • You can not kindle a fire on peat bogs and stone placers in the forest, where a lot of forest debris accumulates. When ignited, it is very difficult to extinguish.
  • Moss and lichen can throw a spark of fire on trees.
  • The place for the fire must not contain traces of deforestation.
  • If you find an old fire pit, it’s better to use it instead of building a new one.
  • It is forbidden to make a fire on the ground, from under which the roots of trees are visible.
  • If the site does not meet the above criteria, remove the topsoil with sod one meter or one and a half in diameter, and build a fire on the ground without an organic substrate. The area around the removed sod must also be cleared of dry grass and leaves so that the fire does not accidentally spread over the ground. On the sides of the excavated place, stones can be laid over, thus constructing a hearth. If there is shallow snow in the forest, you need to clear it to the ground, and if it is deep, you need to trample it well, covering it with a flooring of damp logs or branches.
  • The place for making a fire should be fenced off with a fire strip with a removed mineral layer of soil 0.5 meters wide.

Kindling material selection

Choosing the right firewood is also very important. Dry firewood should be used as fuel: not rotten fallen aspen, birch, hazel, alder, oak,

Resinous firewood (from coniferous trees – pines, spruces, fir) burns with sparks, which can ignite not only nearby dead wood, but also clothes with a tent. If the wood is damp or rotten, it will produce a lot of smoke and little heat. Too thin twigs will quickly burn out, and deadwood is only suitable for making a fire in a dry forest and the same weather. In low forest conditions, shrubs are well suited for lighting. In addition, you can collect twigs and trees along the coast, brought ashore during the flood and dried in the sun.

If the weather is bad, small twigs collected from the lower parts of trees, bark, birch bark, roots, chips from dry logs are used for kindling.

To quickly start a fire, you need to use the right kindling material: pieces of dry bark, birch bark, dry reeds, ferns, moss, lichen. Dry twigs and knots, bird fluff, dried rotten burn well. Thin twigs must be cut with a knife, without completely removing the chips, but leaving them at the end of the rods. The kindling material is laid out in a pyramid, which, after ignition, is gradually surrounded by the main fuel. Raw firewood is laid out around the fire for quick drying.

How to properly extinguish a fire?

When leaving the campsite with a fire, you need to fill it with water or cover it with earth, and cover it with the turf removed earlier. You can not leave the camp site immediately after the fire is extinguished. You need to wait 20-30 minutes, and after there is complete confidence that it is extinguished, you can leave.