Fire Law/Fire Plans

Laws regulating liability associated with prescribed fire vary by state.  This section will examine Oklahoma laws as a case study.  For specific information regarding your state, contact the appropriate state or university official.

In Oklahoma, it is lawful to burn and is considered a property right if conducted properly. The person conducting the burn is considered liable if the fire escapes. Though you are only considered civilly liable for the amount of actual damages only if you follow the guidelines stated within the law. A person can be considered criminally liable if found to have committed gross negligence in setting the fire. How do I burn properly? Have a written burn plan, take reasonable precautions against the fire spreading to other lands, and provide adequate firebreaks, manpower and fire fighting equipment. Stay with the fire until it is extinguished, which means there is no smoke or embers along the edges of the burn unit. Notify local Oklahoma Division of Forestry representative at least four hours in advance in forest protection areas of eastern Oklahoma. Within 60 days of conducting the fire, notify orally or in writing all adjoining landowners. Include proposed date, location and contact number. Complete the prescribed burning notification plan and submit to local fire department and in forest protection areas to the Oklahoma Forestry Division representative, as well as keeping a copy for your records. Within 48 hours of conducting the burn, notify the local fire department and/or local Forestry Division representative if in protection area.

This is not intended to be used as a substitute for the law. Read and know the law before conducting any prescribed fire. For a copy of the burn law and prescribed burn notification plan go to: http://www.forestry.ok.gov/Websites/forestry/Images/burnlaw.pdf

County Burn Bans

In 2008, county commissioners and local fire chiefs were granted the authority by state law to declare a county burn ban. The law reads as follows: “It is unlawful for any person to set fire to any forest, grass, range, crop or other wildlands, or to build a campfire or bonfire, or to burn trash or other material that may cause a forest, grass, range, crop or other wildlands fire in any county of this state in which the board of county commissioners of the county has passed a resolution declaring a period of extreme fire danger.” As used in this subsection, “extreme fire danger” means:

  1. moderate, severe or extreme drought conditions exist as determined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pursuant to its criteria, and
  2. no more than one-half (1/2) inch of precipitation is forecast for the next three (3) days, and
  3. fire occurrence is significantly greater than normal for the season and/or initial attack on a significant number of wildland fires has been unsuccessful due to extreme fire behavior, and
  4. more than twenty percent (20 percent) of the wildfires in the county have been caused by escaped debris or controlled burning.

A majority of the board of county commissioners may call an emergency meeting at any time to pass or revoke a resolution declaring a period of extreme fire danger in accordance with this section.

A board of county commissioners shall have the documented concurrence of a majority of the chiefs, or their designees, of the municipal and certified rural fire departments located in the county that a period of extreme fire danger exists prior to passage of a resolution declaring a period of extreme fire danger in the county. If extreme fire danger conditions persist, subsequent resolutions may be passed by the board of county commissioners in the same manner as provided in this paragraph. The board of county commissioners, in the resolution, may grant exceptions to the fire prohibition based on appropriate precautionary measures. To find out more about burn bans ore to check counties with burn bans go to: http://www.forestry.ok.gov/burn-ban-information

Burn Plans

Every prescribed burn should have a written burn plan. The burn plan allows you to set goals and have a prescription for each burn. It also lets the burn boss make operational and contingency plans prior to the burn. If a liability issue arises, the burn plan demonstrates due diligence by the person conducting the burn.

Items that could be included on a burn plan:

  • Description of burn unit – physical and legal
  • Objectives of delburn – why and expectations
  • Maps/photos of burn unit
  • Prescription parameters
  • Observed weather conditions
  • Firebreak types
  • Ignition plan – written and map
  • Smoke management plan – written and map
  • Contacts – fire dept, neighbors, sheriff dept, etc.
  • Hazards within burn unit
  • Crew members present
  • Equipment present
  • Escaped fire plan
  • Mop-up plans
  • Date of preparation
  • Preparer’s signature

Sources of burn plans: