Wisconsin wildfire control officials plan to implement a three-year pilot program that will allow fire managers to set burning permit restrictions based on fire risk. In Intensive Department of Natural Resources protection areas, burning had been prohibited on Sundays and legal holidays and burn times were restricted solely to evening hours.

The pilot program will provide fire mangers the option to allow burning on Sundays and legal holidays and daytime burning, from11 a.m. to midnight, when conditions are safe. If burning by the general public is unsafe due to fire weather conditions, fire managers will suspend burning on a given day.

“Historically, we have not allowed burning on Sundays and holidays or daytime burning in several counties. With the onset of the electronic burning permit system, we can shut down burning on a daily basis,” says Catherine Koele, DNR wildfire prevention specialist.

“If we have several good soaking rain events over an extended time period and we feel conditions are safe for the public to burn, we can now authorize burning on these days and times. Our goal is to encourage the public to obtain proper permits and burn legal materials when conditions are safe.”

Burning permits, if used appropriately, are an important tool in wildfire prevention. They encourage the public to burn safely in the outdoors and are proven to be effective in protecting lives, property and natural resources from the damages of wildfires. Burning permits are issued for the purposes of burning legal materials such as leaves, brush, pine needles and unrecyclable paper or wood. Trash burning is illegal and alternatives should be considered.

Prior to 2008, burning permits were issued by hand and they were valid for three days after issuance. In spring of 2008, the DNR unveiled an electronic burning permit system which allows customers to obtain an annual burning permit with daily checks to the phone or web for current restrictions on the day the customer wishes to burn.

Sunday burning was historically prohibited due to the misconception that many seasonal residents burned their debris or trash before heading back to their permanent residence; leaving the fire unattended and allowing the fire to escape. Statistics have now shown that the majority of the debris caused wildfires reported are caused by permanent residents (more than 79 percent in 2012 alone). And, those fires caused by seasonal residents never obtained proper burning permits anyway.

“Customers will still need to call the WIS-BURN hotline or check the current fire danger page of the DNR website each day prior to any burning to determine of burning has been suspended for the day, or if any additional time restrictions are in place,” says Koele. “The fire danger changes daily so it’s important to check each day before burning.”

Burning will not be allowed prior to 11 a.m. under daytime burning restrictions with the annual permit unless the ground is completely snow-covered. Any burning prior to 11 a.m. will require a special permit issued at a local DNR ranger station.

Annual burning permits can be obtained over the phone by dialing 1-888-WIS-BURN [947-2876] or online. Only DNR fire wardens, DNR ranger stations and service centers will issue the written annual burning permits.

The pilot program will run for three years and end December 31, 2014. During this time, fire managers will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of these changes and feedback to determine if the new restrictions will continue into the future. For the most current fire danger and burning permit restrictions, visit dnr.wi.gov and enter keyword “fire.”

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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