Burning FAQs

Q: What is the regulation governing open burning in Butte County?
A: District Rule 300 Open Burning Requirements, Prohibitions, and Exemptions. Open burning regulations were updated in 2011 and establish year-round burn hours, drying times, and other requirements.

Q: Why is agricultural burning still allowed?
A: Agricultural burning helps farmers remove crop residues left in the field after harvesting grains such as rice, wheat or corn, and for orchard prunings and removal. Burning is also helpful in removing weeds, preventing disease and controlling pests.

Q: Does burning really kill diseases in the rice fields?
A: For some crops, particularly rice, burning of straw or stubble is the most efficient and effective way to control disease. In the Sacramento Valley, rice has historically accounted for much of the local agricultural burning, with corn and wheat close behind.

Q: Why do you allow burning when the air is clean?
A: When the air is unhealthy, we do not allow burning because it will add to the unhealthy levels.

Q: Do I need a burn permit?
A: Residential burners do not need a permit through the district. However, at certain times of the year, your local fire department will require a burn permit through them, usually free. Make sure to check with your local fire department. Agricultural burners are required to have a burn permit through the District.

Q: Where do I get a burn permit?
A: You can obtain an application for a burn permit on our website under our Forms/Applications portion, or at the District office.

Q: Is it a burn day?
A: You can find this information 2 ways: (1) Call the burn status line. For residential burning (530) 332-9407; for agricultural burning (530) 332-9406; (2) Visit our website home page.

Q: What time of the year can I burn? What can I burn?
A: This information is located at the bottom portion of your burn permit.

Q: How do you determine burn day status?
A: The California Air Resources Board (CARB), determines Permissive Burn Days and the number of acres allocated for agricultural and open burning based on meteorological and air quality factors. When conditions have been met, CARB authorizes burning in the Sacramento Valley Air Basin.

The Sacramento Valley Basinwide Air Pollution Control Council, comprised of nine air districts, develops an annual Burn Plan for the Valley, subject to CARB approval. The Burn Plan specifies requirements for determining agricultural burn hours and daily, basin wide acreage allocations, commensurate with weather conditions and air quality levels.

The Butte County Air Quality Management District (District), handles the day-to-day field operation of agricultural burning: issuing burn permits, informing growers and land managers of when and how much they can burn, conducting complaint investigations, conducting enforcement procedures in violation cases and publishing educational materials on air quality issues.

Q: What do you do when someone burns in their fireplace and won’t stop?
A: The District has no jurisdiction inside a persons home. However, you may file a complaint and the District will send a letter to that residence informing the occupants of the hazardous effects of burning trash.

Q: How do I file a complaint about burning/dust? Can I file an anonymous complaint?
A: Call the district and talk to the on-duty inspector to file a complaint. Anonymous complaints can be made if there is fear of retaliation, simply ask for your name to be withheld.

Q: What is agricultural burning?
A: Agricultural burning is the open burning of vegetative materials produced from commercial growing and harvesting crops or raising fowl or animals.  Agricultural waste also includes the use of open outdoor fires used in the operation or maintenance of a system for the delivery of water, wildland burning, and forest management burning including silvaculture and timber operations, and prescribed burning.

Q: Why is agricultural burning important?
A: Agricultural burning helps farmers remove crop residues left in the field after harvesting grains such as rice, wheat or corn, and for orchard prunings and removal.  Burning is also helpful in removing weeds, preventing disease and controlling pests.  For some crops, particularly rice, burning of straw or stubble is an efficient and effective way to control disease.  In the Sacramento Valley, rice has historically accounted for much of the local agricultural burning, with corn and wheat close behind.

Prescribed Burning is a planned fire and is valued by public and private land manager for vegetation management.  Fire has a natural role in forest ecosystems and is used to minimize catastrophic wildfires.

Q: Why is agricultural burning regulated?
A: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) determines permissive burn days and the number of acres allocated for agricultural and open burning based on meteorological and air quality factors.  When conditions have been met, CARB authorizes burning in the Sacramento Valley Air Basin.

The Sacramento Valley Basinwide Air Pollution Control Council, compromised of nine air districts, develops an annual burn plan for the valley, subject to CARB approval.  Then burn plan specifies requirements for determining agricultural burn hours and days, basin wide acreage allocations, commensurate with weather conditions and air quality levels.

The District handles the day-to-day field operation of agricultural burning; issuing burn permits, informing growers and land managers of when and how much they can burn, conducting complaint investigations, conducting enforcement procedures in violation cases and publishing educational materials on air quality issues. As a source of pollution, smoke can pose a serious threat to human respiratory systems.

Smoke particles are very small droplets of condensed organic vapors, unburned fuel, soot, and ash that escape from fire can cause and aggravate lung damage, chronic lung disease and cancer.  Smoke constrains ozone-forming compounds (volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen) and significant amounts of fine particles and other pollutants.

Toxic residue from compounds in smoke can remain in the air for weeks; if inhaled, it can lodge deep in the lungs, causing irritation and coughing.  Pollutants from open burning are believed to contribute less than 7% to Butte County’s ground-level ozone and less than 9% to PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter).  The primary source of regional pollution continues to be motor vehicles in summer, and residential wood burning appliances (wood stoves, inserts, and fireplaces) in winter.  However, as part of the effort to reduce air pollution in the Sacramento Valley Air Basin, agricultural burning is controlled through a process of permits, rules, and regulations.

Penalties for violating California air pollution regulations can be expensive – as much as $50,000 per day.  Keeping agricultural burning operations within the law not only avoids costly penalties, but helps provide a healthier environment for everyone.

Q: Who may burn waste and when?
A: An Air Quality Management District Burn Permit may be required for burning agricultural waste, land clearing waste, levees, ditches, timber harvesting operations, prescribed burning, and right-of-way clearing waste.

Burning is allowed only on Permissive Burn Days, when forecasted weather conditions create enough air movement to permit good smoke dispersal.  Burning is also restricted to certain times of the day.  All burn permit holders must also comply with local fire protection agency permit requirements.

Q: What is “phase-down law”?
A: The Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act was enacted in 1991 by the California Legislature to phase down (but not phase out) burning of rice straw in the Sacramento Valley Air Basin.  In 1998, the total amount of rice acreage that may be burned was limited to 200,000 each year.  During the fall season up to 90,000 acres may be burned and 110,000 acres in the spring.  Beginning in 2001, rice straw burning will be limited to 25% of the planted acres.  In order to burn, however, growers must show proof of crop loss due to disease, and only 125,000 acres per year will be allocated basin wide.  Because of the phase down, farmers often seek alternatives to burning.  The Sacramento Valley Agricultural Burn Plan is also contributing to a decrease in the total percentage of local acreage being burned.

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