The West Hill community is located in unincorporated King County. This means that we don't have any city ordinances that regulate our indoor and outdoor fires. However, this does not mean that we live in an area without laws when it comes to recreational or home heating fires. In fact, Washington State has several laws that deal with both indoor and outdoor burning, and they apply to the entire state. Furthermore, the King County Fire Marshal and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have the authority to enact burn bans for different reasons at different times of the year. Here is short summary of the rules that apply in our community, followed by a list of frequently asked questions:
It is always illegal to use a burn barrel.
It is always illegal to burn prohibited materials, including:
Garbage or refuse
Cardboard or paper (except what’s necessary to start the fire)
Building materials, including paints, vinyl flooring, roofing, and scrap lumber
Rubber products, including tires
Plastics or petroleum products
Any other material that creates smoke that is a nuisance or is harmful to your neighbors
It is always illegal to smoke out your neighbors
If the smoke from your fire is a nuisance to one of your neighbors, you are required to put the fire out immediately
What is a “recreational” fire?
According to WAC (Washington Administrative Code 173-425-030), recreational fires include cooking fires, campfires, and bonfires using only charcoal or seasoned firewood that occur in designated areas or on private property for cooking, pleasure, or ceremonial purposes. Fires lit in chimineas (free-standing mini-chimneys), fire pits, fire bowls, and similar free-standing devices—commonly sold at home-improvement and big-box stores—fall under this definition.
Are there any restrictions on recreational fire?
Yes. At all times while the fire is burning, it must be attended to by a person who is alert, capable of extinguishing it, and has the necessary tools to extinguish it readily available. This can be either a garden hose, a shovel with dirt, or a fire extinguisher (we recommend at least a 4A rating). Furthermore, the fire must be built in a metal or concrete fire pit set in a clear spot free from vegetation for at least 10 feet in width and at least 25 feet from any structure. Overhanging branches must have at least a 20-foot high clearance from the fire. Finally, the fire must be no larger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height.
Also, while not technically required by law, a best practice is to include a 25-foot fire break around the fire, which is a buffer zone where all fuel that could potentially catch fire is removed (including trees, bushes, leaves, pine needles, grass, etc.).
Can I burn yard debris?
No. Burning yard debris is prohibited by a year-round burn ban in urban growth areas, and the land area that we call West Hill is designated as an urban growth area. Burning yard debris is only allowed in rural areas, at certain times of the year, and by permit only.
This also means that you cannot burn yard debris in a recreational fire. Only charcoal or seasoned firewood can be burned in a recreational fire.
Can I burn land, weeds, brush, or bushes to clear them off my property?
What are the different types of burn bans, and how do they apply to me?
There are three types of burn bans. The first type of burn ban applies to burning yard debris, and it is described above.
The second type is issued by the King County Fire Marshal’s Office, usually in the summer months, when there is a high or extreme risk for wildfires. This type of burn ban is intended to protect life and property because even the smallest of fires can easily get out of control in the dry summer months. This type of burn ban applies to all outdoor burning, except for natural gas or propane cooking stoves & barbecues.
The third type is issued by the Puget Sound Clear Air Agency, usually in the winter months when the weather conditions (thermal layer inversions and calm air) are conducive to poor air quality. This type of burn ban is intended to protect public health, in line with the Washington Clean Air Act and EPA standards. People with medical conditions that affect their respiratory and/or cardiovascular systems, such as asthma and heart disease, can have life-threatening complications from the poor air quality that is common in the winter months. Violating this type of burn ban could result in a fine that starts at $1,000 per day and can get as high as $17,000 per day.
The third type of burn ban applies to all outdoor burning (including charcoal barbecues) and home heating fires, and it has two stages. In stage one, EPA-certified wood stoves and pellet stoves are allowed. In stage two, no wood burning is allowed, including EPA-certified devices. The only exception is if the homeowner has a previously approved ‘No Other Adequate Source of Heat’ designation from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Natural gas or propane home heating stoves are not affected by this type of burn ban.
Here is a video produced by the WA State Department of Ecology that discusses the different types of burn bans in greater detail.