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Santa Cruz County Backyard Burn Rules

Santa Cruz County allows residents to conduct "backyard burns" for the purposes of reducing fire danger during the fire season. The rules let you burn tree trimmings and brush during a limited part of the year, generally Dec 1 through April 30, but the actual dates can vary depending on fire risk.

Santa Clara County does not allow backyard burns of this kind.

Both counties allow other kinds of burns - agricultural, hazard reduction, and warming or ceremonial fires - but different rules govern those. Contact your local fire station and air quality control district for advice on those if needed.

As of 2014 there are two organizations that govern different aspects of backyard burns in Santa Cruz County:
  • Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District
    • controls smoke from backyard burns and other fires
    • has rules about which parcels may burn
    • declares burn / no-burn days
    • issues burn permits
  • Cal Fire
    • can issue burn bans based on fire risk
    • has rules about how backyard burns may be conducted, mostly aimed at keeping fires from escaping control and causing damage
This page documents the Santa Cruz County backyard burn regulations and rules. It is based on written and online documentation as well as conversations with Cal Fire and MBUAPCD personnel. It is a guide only, and both organizations actually control and enforce their own rules. Questions should be directed to your local fire station or MBUAPCD, and their answers override anything you read on this page in the event of a discrepancy.

Rules and notes from MBUAPCD:
  • Before you burn you need to obtain a burn permit from MBUAPCD. You can do this online or over the phone. Their website has both detailed and quick instructions on how to accomplish this. Note that not everyone will qualify for a permit, and some permits may require waivers. There are restrictions based on location, lot size, and other criteria. This used to describe how to get a burn permit, but the process is complex enough that the above links are the best way to get the right information on how to do that. MBUAPCD employees can answer questions about the permitting process if you have any after reading their documentation.
  • Backyard urns may only occur on designated burn days in your particular zone. You can use the MBUAPCD website to determine your burn zone, and you must call 1-800-CAL-BURN after 4pm the day before you want to burn to determine if it is a permissive burn day in your zone.
  • Review MBUAPCD's documentation on what may be burned and how it should be done. Vegetation needs to be dry, for example, and burning of leaves and needles isn't allowed due to the smoke they produce. Burn hours are limited and the burn must be extinguished, not left to smoulder. The documentation for most of LPVFR's response territory is summarized here: http://mbuapcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/BackyardBurnBrochure11-15-13_OutsideSLV.pdf. Some readers may live in the San Lorenzo Valley, and there is a different set of rules for that area: http://mbuapcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/BackyardBurnBrochure11-15-13_SLV.pdf.
  • In July 2014 MBUAPCD considered charting for burn permits, but at least for the 2014/15 backyard burn season no such charges will apply for backyard burns. There may be charges for other burn permit types if you need those.
  • The MBUAPCD website has an extensive section on backyard burn permits, including an interactive map of the burn zones. It is best to familiarize yourself with that site to make the permitting process go smoothly.
Rules from Cal Fire:
  • Contact your local Cal Fire station before you start to advise them that you are going to burn.
  • Follow these rules, most of which come from: http://www.santacruzcountyfire.com/resource_mgmt/2012_burn_pile_guidelines.pdf
    • Burns may start no earlier than 8 am and must be completely extinguished by 4 pm. Fires must be fully put out, not left to smoulder.
    • You may only burn dry plant prunings, tree trimmings, brush and the like that come from your property only. "Dry" means the following:
      • Anything up to 2" in diameter must have dried at least 30 days
      • 2" - 6" must have dried at least 60 days
      • 6" and greater must have dried at least 180 days
    • Burning trash is illegal in the entire state and is strictly prohibited.
    • The maximum size of your burn pile is 4' x 4' x 4'.
    • You'll need 10' of bare dirt around a 4' burn pile in all directions.
    • A water source and tools (rake, shovel, hoe, etc.) to put out the burn must be present at the burn site.
    • A responsible adult must be present during the entire burn.
    • You are responsible for avoiding weather and environmental conditions that make the burn unsafe. If weather conditions change - the wind picks up, for example - you should extinguish your burn immediately.
    • Stack the material so that it will get plenty of air. Doing so reduces the smoke created.
    • You can be charged for the costs of putting out an escaped burn.