How to play with fire responsibly this summer

Published 11:12 am Monday, May 29, 2023

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Memorial Day is an important holiday in the United States, not only for its role in honoring fallen U.S. military service members, but also for the time it presents for gathering with family and friends. 

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Cooking around an open fire is a popular Memorial Day pastime. Campfires and outdoor debris piles are also likely to be set aflame during the long weekend. 

“In Lowndes County, our hope is that residents will put safety first when their families spend time grilling outdoors this Memorial Day weekend. Safety first!” said Lowndes County Extension Coordinator Tana Shealey.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System experts encourage everyone to stay safe when using fire this summer.

Ryan Mitchell, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife, and natural resources regional agent, said the key to responsibly enjoying time around fire is planning.

“Thoughtful planning and careful execution are key to safe burning,” Mitchell said. “Spread the word on practicing fire safety this summer.”

Michell said fire needs three components to thrive: oxygen, fuel, and heat. This trio is referred to as the fire triangle. Without the existence of all three elements, fire will not survive. Should any of these pieces be removed, any flame will be extinguished.

The term fuel refers to any material—living or not—that fire can use to spread. Some examples include grasses, shrubs, stumps and dry, flammable trash or debris. During dry conditions–especially prolonging droughts–the ignition rate for these fuels is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air and the material itself.

Recreational fire opportunities are great ways for family and friends to enjoy summer’s atmosphere. However, fires have the potential to become exceedingly dangerous if not planned and executed responsibly.

Before grabbing those burgers and hotdogs, ensure the proper handling of fire–especially when starting it. Remove all flammable materials around a fire site including loose debris, brush, fuel cans, etc. before lighting a flame. This will mitigate opportunities for fire to spread to undesirable places, such as vehicles or structures. This especially applies to burning trash or debris piles.

“Never walk on top of a large debris pile to ignite it,” Mitchell said. “This action can potentially lead to falling or becoming stuck while fuel is rapidly burning.”

Mitchell also said it is not a good idea to use gasoline or other accelerants that may give off explosive vapors. Using this method has the potential to cause severe injuries.

Prescribed burning, the intentional burning of forest or agricultural land, is an important component of land management in Alabama. This tool has numerous benefits to soil and wildlife habitat. However, beginning May 2023, these fires are now more regulated across a large portion of Alabama.

Every year, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) issues burning restrictions in multiple counties. These regulations help improve air quality and surface-level ozone exposure. From May 1 to November 1, all large-scale burns will need special permission for execution in Baldwin, Dekalb, Etowah, Jefferson, Lawrence, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Morgan, Russell, Shelby, and Talladega counties.

Alabama law requires that anyone burning an area larger than 0.25 acres must have a permit from the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC). However, during the ADEM burn-restriction period, no eligible-size burns will be permitted unless they are for agriculture or silviculture purposes. 

To assist with the reinforcement of this restriction, the AFC will not administer permits for land clearing or miscellaneous reasons in the restricted counties. Anyone charged in violation of this restriction is subject to a hefty fine from ADEM. Permissible burn criteria includes wildlife, hardwood control, other understory control, piled debris (for silvicultural site prep only), scattered debris, and agriculture.

Mitchell adds that people need to obtain a free burn permit before initiating a burn.

“If you choose to conduct a prescribed burn, safety is of the utmost importance,” Mitchell said. “Under the wrong conditions, fire can easily get out of hand and affect property and life.”

He also recommends a training course for those who aspire to become better prescribed burners. The Certified Prescribed Burn Manager course covers 32 hours of discussion, planning and study of Alabama fire laws. Any individual who uses prescribed fire as a land management tool should consider participating in the program.

Warmer weather is here to stay for a while. Grab loved ones and get outside to start grilling and enjoying summer nights next to the fire. Educating others about fire safety is important. Be sure to spread information—not fire—this year.

For more information on burning techniques and safety tips, visit the Alabama Extension website,