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Safety first: MFD Chief offers outdoor burning tips

John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.

As the summer approaches, North Florida has experienced above average and record temperatures already. The weekends can entail beach trips or swimming parties to cool down, while some are preparing to clean property from growing bushes, branches and other yard debris that has accumulated naturally now that winter is gone. An easy way to get rid of such debris is with controlled burning.

Madison Fire Department's (MFD) Chief Bruce Jordan would like to remind everyone that as the heat progresses, it's important to be aware, cautious and safe when starting, and utilizing, a controlled burn. There are legal and safety guidelines for outdoor burning activities regardless of where your property is located. With such high temperatures North Florida has recently experienced, uncontrolled fires are more dangerous for citizens and the firefighters that have to fight the fires.

The City of Madison has an ordinance that affects city residents when it comes to outdoor burning. Because most homes and properties in the city are close together, the ordinance prohibits burning of yard debris, leaves, trash, etc. in the city limits. City employees will pick up bagged leaves and yard debris if left at the curb.

The Florida Forest Service (FFS) has regulations that govern outdoor burning; any burning pile should be less than eight feet in diameter or in a non-combustible container; must be more than 50 feet from a road; more than 25 feet from your house and 25 feet from any brush, wildland or combustible structure; and at least 150 feet from any other occupied building. It is also illegal to burn household garbage, including paper products, treated lumber, plastics, rubber materials, tires, pesticide, paint and aerosol containers, etc. The FFS can issue citations for illegal burning which can include fines.

It is important to remember any outdoor burning must be conducted after 8 a.m. and be extinguished one hour prior to sunset, unless prior arrangements have been made with FFS.

Use wire mesh to cover the container and clear an area around the container or around your burn pile to bare dirt to prevent sparks from causing any other fires. Never leave any fire unattended and keep a close eye on young children while burning. Additionally, keep a garden hose close by while you're burning in order to extinguish any escaping fire or sparks.

When starting any fire, always use care and do not use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start your fire. Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, produce vapor that can ignite easily – sometimes with explosive results. Many people are injured by the flash fire that is caused by igniting gasoline or other flammable liquids. It is safer to use a match or lighter to ignite another fuel such as pine cones, dry pine straw or grass, etc. and add the larger yard debris after the fire starts, building the fire slowly.

Monitor the weather while burning and extinguish your fire if the wind conditions increase or if you must leave your fire for any reason. Unattended and escaped fires can cause damage to your property and others. You are responsible for any fire that you start, including any damages caused by a fire that travels onto another person's property.

If you lose control of your fire, call 911 immediately. An uncontrolled fire can travel quickly depending on the fuel that is available and wind speed. More information can be found at

You are welcome to call MFD at (850) 973-5075 with any questions you may have about smoke alarms or to request assistance with any existing smoke alarms that you have in your home.

Any group(s) that would like to have someone come out and speak about smoke alarms or any other fire safety topics is invited to contact Chief Bruce Jordan (850)253-5117 or email Jordan at


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