The Ins and Outs of Open Pile Burning

August 31st, 2018

A picture of cut vegetation in a pile on the ground with mountains in the background. A pile of vegetation after a resident improved their defensible space. Photograph courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

When maintaining or creating defensible space, property owners can end up with a large amount of leaves, weeds, branches and shrubs that need disposing of. As the mornings become brisk and the fall season approaches, some questions arise as to whether or not pile burning is allowed as one way to get rid of this waste. Armed with little knowledge of pile burning, I asked Charles A. Moore, fire chief of Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, some questions:

What is open pile burning?

Pile burning refers to the burning of cut and stacked vegetation. Pile burns can be a useful method for reducing brush fire fuels, bush regeneration, property maintenance and other agricultural activities. However, poorly-managed pile burns can pose a brush fire risk and endanger lives, property and the environment.

What are examples of items that can be burned and cannot be burned?

Dry and dead vegetation from the property is the only appropriate use for pile burning. Trash, garbage, household or building materials such as plastics, wooden pallets or cardboard boxes are prohibited for pile burning.

Who is open pile burning available to?

Residents who reside in the unincorporated areas of Washoe County can pile burn. The district generally allows open burning in spring and fall depending on several factors, including but not limited to: wind, temperature and condition of vegetation. We have a permitting process in place for pile burning. Other factors are air quality and inversions. The Washoe County Health District does not permit open burning between Nov. 1 and April 1.

Is pile burning permitted right now?

No. Pile burning is currently prohibited in Washoe County due to hot or warm temperatures, dry conditions, an extreme increase in the average fuel loads of wildland fuels this season due to the heavy winter of 2017 and the wet spring this year. Additionally, the warmer seasons tend to have more gusty winds, which also increases the fire hazard.

Why is open pile burning available only some of the time?

We make the decisions to allow open burning based on a number of factors, including the amount of moisture, wind conditions and fire index. Each day is different. Fire safety is our number one priority and we will not allow pile burning if conditions are not appropriate.

As an alternative to pile burning, we strongly encourage residents to use other means of vegetation disposal such a composting green waste or taking vegetation to a waste facility prior to undertaking a pile burn.

We hosted a green waste day this past June, and we anticipate hosting a weekend of green waste recycle days this coming fall, at multiple locations. We will announce the dates and locations soon.

How can residents find out if open pile burning is available?

Check out the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District website at We also make public announcements through social media and our local media partners. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

How can residents get a burning permit?

Contact us at 775-326-6000. During open burning periods, we also make the permit available online.

When open pile burning is available, are there any tips for residents to properly burn?

When open burning is permitted, you must have a permit from the fire district, and you must call us each day you want to undertake a burn so you can confirm if it is an approved burn day or not.

Generally speaking, however, make the pile wide and long rather than high, 3 feet by 3 feet at most.  It should not resemble a bonfire.  Stay away from power lines, and make sure you choose a space that is open, away from trees, tall vegetation, structures and fences. Maintain a clear area between piles and any other combustible material. Have a water source close by. We always encourage you to call our fire prevention officers at 775-326-6000 with any questions on how to burn properly.

Pile burning is just one of many ways to remove vegetation from a property. Be sure to check with your local fire department or district to learn if pile burning is allowed or if there are any other services available to help remove the green waste from your property.

headshot of Jamie Roice-GomesJamie Roice-Gomes is the manager and outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or

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