Open Burning, Recreational Fires and Grills

Spending time outdoors is what living in Colorado is all about. During the spring and summer months, North Metro Fire receives numerous questions about what is allowed in regards to backyard fires and grills. Due to the varying weather conditions and air quality in our area, restrictions can change on a daily basis. However, here are some general definitions and guidelines to follow.

Current Burning Restrictions

  • Unincorporated Adams County 
  • Unincorporated Jefferson County 
  • Broomfield, Northglenn, and eastern unincorporated Boulder County: Unless a REG FLAG warning has been issued by the National Weather Service for fire weather zone 240, small “recreational” fires are allowed without a permit; but the Fire Code gives the Fire District the authority to extinguish the fire if a hazardous situation exists, e.g.: the fire is not being constantly attended, the people present are not fully attentive of the dangers of the recreational fire (i.e., under the influence of drugs or alcohol), etc.

Open Burning – When Do I Need a Permit?

The International Fire Code (IFC) defines open burning as the burning of materials wherein products of combustion are emitted directly into air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed chamber. Examples of open burning include farmers conducting agricultural burns on their land or someone burning a pep-rally style bonfire. 

Residents at single-family homes burning a small campfire-sized fire in a contained space in their backyard are generally excluded from the open burning restrictions of the adopted fire code. However, on days with very high fire danger, North Metro Fire may recommend that even recreational fires be restricted out of precaution.  Additionally, the local sheriff has the authority to issue burn restrictions, or even a fire ban, during periods of high fire danger.  A “RED FLAG WARNING” issued by the National Weather Service automatically triggers a complete fire ban in the affected areas.

bonfireGeneral Open Burning
Homeowners and landowners, regardless of the size of their plot of land, who have cleared brush, trimmed trees and bushes, etc. for the purpose of maintaining their land, sometimes wish to dispose of the yard waste by burning. While this is possible, the fire district always recommends other methods of disposal, such as city or county tree-recycling programs, disposal in the regular trash, etc. Should a homeowner desire to dispose of yard waste in this manner, they must contact the fire district to obtain a burn permit, unless the fire is kept to the recreational fire size or disposed of in an outdoor fireplace.

Bonfires  If you are planning a fire pit that would have a stack of wood greater than 3 feet across and 2 feet high, then you will need a permit from North Metro Fire.  A bonfire must be constructed at least 50 feet from any combustibles.

Agricultural Burning
Agricultural burning is the open burning of vegetation by farmers for the purpose of preparing the soil for crop production, weed control, maintenance of water conveyance structures related to agricultural operations, and other agricultural cultivation purposes. Homeowners with larger plots of land that are maintaining their acreage are not considered agricultural. Agricultural burning requires a permit from North Metro Fire. 

Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits 

Below you’ll see some types of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, commonly enjoyed in one’s backyard space. Recreational fires should not exceed 3 feet across or 2 feet in height, and burning trash or rubbish is never allowed. These type of fires are typically exempt from open burning restrictions. However, in extreme fire danger conditions, the sheriff may issue a fire ban, and/or North Metro Fire may advise against recreational fires and open fire grilling. propane fire pit

Natural Gas or Propane Fire Pits
These are contained fire pits fueled by natural gas or propane. If you are planning a natural gas-fired custom installation pit, then you need a permit from your local building official because of the installation of natural gas pipe.  You do not need a permit for a portable fire pit fueled by a propane tank.

Portable Outdoor Fireplaces 
outdoor fire pitThese are the bowl- or pan-shaped, wood-burning fire pits with a screen cover that you can buy at a store.  The IFC has no restrictions for these EXCEPT that you use them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, which may include a separation distance from combustibles (e.g., the house). As a rule of thumb, North Metro Fire recommends placing portable outdoor fireplaces at least 10 feet away from combustible materials.  When there is a fire or smoldering embers, there must always be someone watching.  Burning of trash is NEVER allowed.

Campfire-Style Fire Pits (Recreational Fires)  
If you are planning a permanent campfire-style, wood-burning fire ring using rocks or bricks or something similar, then that is a “recreational fire” defined by the IFC. The pile of wood for a outdoor fire pit in groundrecreational fire shall be no more than 3-ft long by 3-ft wide by 2-ft tall. A recreational fire must be at least 25 feet away from any combustibles, i.e., your house, the neighbor’s house, bushes, trees, fencing, deck railings, etc. Even if you put a grate over your open fire pit to use it as a grill, you should still follow guidelines from the fire department in regards to recreational fires.

Enjoy Your Outdoor Fire (And Be a Good Neighbor) By Following These Safety Tips

No matter what you are planning, we encourage you to follow these safety tips to prevent accidental fires and to avoid disturbing your neighbors.  

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for a store-bought device.
  • Keep the fire pit or fireplace as far away from combustible materials as possible, e.g., the house, landscaping, fencing, deck railings, trees, bushes, etc. 
  • Use stone, rocks, tiles, etc. in the area of the fire pit or fireplace, and continue a defensive ring of those same materials around the fire area.
  • Keep the area clean of debris.
  • Keep watch. It is illegal to leave any open fire unattended. You should also always have someone present who is capable of extinguishing the fire.
  • Have a hose and nozzle connected and the water supply turned on when burning.
  • Follow local burn restrictions and/or bans when enacted.
  • Be a good neighbor! Be aware of where the smoke is going so not to disturb your neighbors. We often get calls for backyard fires that create a lot of smoke, hindering nearby residents from enjoying their own outdoor space. While we will always respond to investigate and ensure there is no imminent danger, it does tie up first responder resources for a situation that could be prevented. 
  • Do not burn trash or rubbish, including sawed lumber, which releases toxic fumes into the air that are harmful to your health and that of your neighbors.
  • “I’ve got insurance for that!” Maybe not. You will be liable if your fire burns your neighbor’s property, legally and possibly criminally; and your insurance policy may not cover the loss if it is considered the result of an illegal act.  This is especially the case for illegal fireworks (e.g., anything that leaves the ground or explodes).

BBQ Grills

The regulations on if or how you can use a barbecue grill, whether charcoal or propane, depends on your type of residence. Please follow this chart below for regulations on outdoor grills. If you witness someone violating these regulations, please call North Metro Fire’s Fire Prevention Division 720-887-8217.

Additionally, we encourage you to follow these grilling safety tips by the National Fire Protection Association to avoid injury or accidental fires while grilling. 

International Fire Code

Gas Grills
Charcoal Grills
One- and two-family dwellings and townhousesAllowedAllowed
Condos, apartments, hotels and motelsAllowed only if: 
A) Located on a noncombustible balcony 10 feet or more from combustible construction; or,
B) The buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system; or, 
C) Using a 1-lb. LP-gas cylinder
Allowed only if:
A) Located on a noncombustible balcony 10 feet or more from combustible construction; or,
B) The buildings, balconies and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system