Legal Issues - About Fire

Fire is a very touchy subject in the West these days. Other than a small cookfire (and even then - quite often in these days of very dry weather there is a total fire ban in effect), you will need a permit for any burning you intend to do. And if you do get a permit, that burn must be constantly attended by a competent individual, must have a water supply nearby, can't be too close to any structure and must be extinguished at nightfall. For further information, please contact your local fire protection district or your local sheriff.

When living in a rural area, there are a few things to consider in regards to fire and its hazards, things like accessibility, wildfires and limited water supply.


In the bush, emergency services may be 45 minutes or more away. In some areas, you might be able to get an ambulance or a sheriff to come out but forget fire protection services. In any case, one of the best things you can do is make sure all emergency services know where you are, and then make sure that your address is clearly marked and is visible from the main road. Another important item is to construct your driveway so that any emergency vehicle can reach your home under any weather conditions. Your local fire department or county sheriff will have specifications on road grades, dimensions and turning radii, etc.

It's also important to have a second avenue of escape for you, your family and any emergency personnel. This access needs to also be maintained year round, in all types of weather. If the helpers can't get there, they can't help. And is it help if they can get there but can't get out?

Limited Water Supply

In a rural area, one of the hardest things to do is get water to the fire. Tanker trucks are one thing but they are limited by distance, access and carrying capacity. Construction of an all-weather water supply on site is one option. However, there are certain guidelines recommended for this: ask your local fire protection district. And, as everywhere else in this world, placing several fire extinguishers strategically in each building is highly recommended. Smoke detectors are also highly recommended (required in any new construction and in any remodeling of older homes), as you may need all the warning you can get.


Wildfires are a very real and potentially disastrous problem in rural communities. To reduce your risk, it is recommended that you complete the following measures:

  • Thin out all tree and brush cover within 30 feet of your home. Adequate thinning means the outer edge of tree crowns is 10 to 12 feet apart. Here and there a 2 or 3 tree clump is okay as long as the clump is isolated from other trees. Small clumps of brush or shrubs can be left as long as they are separated by at least 10 feet of irrigated grass or non-combustible material. If your home is on a slope, you'll want to increase the defensible space, especially on the downhill side. If your home sits atop a steep hill, thin all burnable fuels down to at least 100 feet below the crest.
  • Get rid of all the slash and debris from your thinning. You can cut it into small pieces and disperse it over a wide area (this also accelerates its decomposition), pile it and burn it (get a permit and burn it only when there is adequate snow cover to prevent the spread of the fire) or rent a chipper and chip it.
  • Within the defensible space, remove all dead tree limbs, leaves and other ground litter.
  • Stack your firewood up the hill and at least 15 feet away from your home.
  • You can install an irrigated greenbelt zone immediately around your home, or put in rock gardens. Just make sure none of your materials is combustible.
  • Keep all nearby grasses and weeds mowed or grazed to a height of 2 inches or less, especially in times of high fire danger.
  • Within the defensible space, prune all tree branches to a height of at least 10 feet and remove any brush, small trees or anything else that may assist a ground fire in reaching into the tree tops.
  • Trim any branches that hang over your roof and remove all branches within 15 feet of a chimney.
  • Clean all the pine needles and leaves off the roof and out of the gutters to eliminate ignition sources for firebrands, especially during hot, dry weather. logo
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