While many people enjoy the look and smell of a backyard fire, it is important to remember that burning wood creates air pollution that is harmful, especially for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. No fire is a healthy fire.  If you do choose to have a fire, consider the information below to help reduce smoke and its health impacts. Burning smarter will help you have a more enjoyable experience, make cleanup easier and help reduce smoke and pollutants for both you and your neighbors.

Talk with your neighbors before a fire

Be considerate of your neighbors, understanding that your fires may cause health issues for them. Listen to neighbors who may suffer from your campfires. Even if they don’t have health conditions, let your neighbors know you are going to have a fire so they can close windows.  It is important to note that closing windows will not prevent wood smoke from entering homes and affecting neighbors with respiratory conditions.  Be a good neighbor.

Wood smoke health effects information – Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Use only dry, aged wood

Wood should be split, stacked and covered for six months or more before burning.  Wood should be stored under a cover with the ability for air to circulate around it.  This can be as simple as keeping a tarp over the top of the wood stack without covering the sides.  Properly dried wood is often darker, has cracks in the end grain, and makes a “hollow sound” when smacked against another piece of wood. 

Firewood moisture meters are available at hardware and fireplace specialty stores. Use only wood that has a moisture content of 20% or less. For more on using a moisture meter, check out this EPA video.

Burn only firewood

Never burn household garbage, painted or stained wood, plastics, or chemically treated paper in your backyard fire. Not only is this practice illegal, it is also hazardous and dangerous to you, your family and to your neighbors.  

Yard waste should not be burned either.  Check with your county about drop-off or pick-up options for yard waste.

Never let a fire smolder

Hot-burning fires create a more complete combustion that decreases the amount of pollution generated.  A poorly constructed fire or a fire left to smolder can produce large amounts of unhealthy smoke and makes a backyard fire much less enjoyable.  Extinguish the fire completely when you are done.

Don't burn on air alert days

Wood smoke can make bad air days worse and you should not burn when air pollution health advisories have been issued in your area.  Some local governments even prohibit backyard fires on days the “air quality index” is above 100, the level at which air pollution can start to impact sensitive groups.  To know when air pollution has reached unhealthy levels in your area, sign up for air alerts via email, download a mobile app, or see daily updates on Twitter.

Consider alternatives to burning wood

There are many backyard fire features that use fuels other than wood. Consider a natural gas or propane fire pit instead.  They are easier and cleaner than using wood.  

Not every backyard evening get together needs a fire.  It can be just as nice to spend time with your family and friends, without having to feed a fire or move around to avoid the smoke.  

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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