Thursday, March 21, 2024

DEQ Reminds Residents, Businesses that Burning Trash is Against State Law

Mar 21, 2024

The open burning of trash, metal, plastic and all other man-made materials not only harms the environment and poses a public health risk, it’s against state law.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality is reminding North Carolinians: If it doesn’t grow, don’t burn it. Open burning is only allowed in limited circumstances and only for vegetative materials like leaves, limbs and yard debris.

The state’s oldest air quality regulation, the open burning rule limits what can be burned outdoors and when. Other requirements of the open burning rule:

  • Residential yard waste and commercial land clearing burning can only occur between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. No new vegetation can be added to a burn pile after 6 p.m.
  • Burning is only allowed when the air quality forecast is Code Green or Code Yellow. Burning on Code Orange, Red or Purple days is prohibited. Check your county’s air quality forecast at the online Air Quality Portal.
  • Yard waste must originate at a private residence and be burned on that site. In other words, residents can only burn vegetation from their own yard — not yard waste from other homes or locations.
  • Burning of yard waste is only allowed if permitted under local ordinances and only if public pickup of yard debris is not available.
  • Campfires, outdoor cooking fires and bonfires are permissible, unless prohibited by local ordinances or temporary burn bans, provided that only vegetation such as firewood is burned. Fires must be controlled and never left unattended.

Commercial land clearing operations are also limited by the open burning rule. Land clearing is the uprooting or clearing of vegetation in connection with construction, land development or mining, or the initial clearing of vegetation to enhance property value. The burning of this debris must comply with all open burning rules, including the following key restrictions:

  • As a general rule, the vegetation should originate on the site where the burn is taking place. (Land clearing waste can be transported and burned at another site up to four times a year only if specific conditions in the open burning rules are met).
  • Kerosene or diesel fuel may be used to start a land-clearing fire, but no other man-made materials can be burned.
  • Land clearing burn piles must be at least 500 feet from occupied structures and at least 250 feet from any public road when the prevailing winds are blowing toward the road. Information on wind direction is available from the National Weather Service.

The Division of Air Quality enforces the state open burning rule, partnering with local law enforcement, firefighters and fire marshals, and the N.C. Forest Service to ensure compliance. Violators can be fined up to $25,000 per violation per day. To submit an open burning complaint, contact the DEQ Regional Office that serves your county. Anonymous complaints can be submitted via our online tool.

Careless debris burning is the leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina. The N.C Forest Service may require an open burning permit before certain fires are lit, including fires in protected areas. The Division of Air Quality does not issue burn permits. Burn permits are available through the N.C. Forest Service’s online application at or by contacting a local N.C. Forest Service county office or local permitting agent. For more information, contact the N.C. Forest Service.

Local county and municipal governments may have more stringent burning restrictions than state law. Contact your local officials to learn what burning rules may be in place where you live.

The open burning rule includes exceptions for certain special burns, including firefighter training exercises and prescribed burns. For more information about open burning, and to watch a video that reviews these state laws, visit DEQ’s Open Burning website.

If you need this information in Spanish or another language, call 919-609-2189 or email

Si necesita esta información en español por favor llame al 919-609-2189 o mande un correo a
Comunicado de prensa (español )

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