SHERIFF'S CORNER: Another reminder on burn bans

The busy time of summer is amongst us. Open houses, graduations, holidays and special events start picking up this time of year. That means the calls for police service increase.

In recent times, the downward spiral of those wanting to get into law enforcement has decreased. In years past, you would see 40-50 applications for one position, now you are seeing one or two. However, we have been fortunate on maintaining a good, professional crew as well as having hired an exceptional few.

When it comes to hiring part-timers for recreational ORV enforcement, that can be even a grimmer story. No one wants to work part time, however that does not change the rise in complaints and ORV traffic.

In 2020, there was an increase of 43% from the year prior in 2019. Now this is somewhat an anomaly due to the COVID fiasco, but I would guess that trend will continue to increase as I see all of the ORV traffic on the trails and roads.

With that being said, that is the case with being Sheriff. With the before mentioned issues, I have personally dedicated working out on patrol on Saturdays. The reason I mention this is because I try to get an article in the paper every week, but sometimes my time may be limited to do this. As I shoot for every week, there may be times that I may have to skip a week.

On another note, it has been a dry, dry spring. I heard someone mention that this is the driest spring we have had since the 1890's. To top that off with the extra ground clutter, twigs and branches left behind from the tornados a few years ago, the increase of a wildfire is "Big Time."

That's why I'm always perplexed when a fire goes out of control on a day when there is a burn ban in effect, is super windy and it feels like the surface of Mercury outside. With keeping that in mind I felt the need to repost my past article relating to open burning.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss the what, where and when on outside burning.

Disclaimer: This article will focus on the rules and regulations at the state level pertaining to Lake County. In southern Michigan and urban areas, there are local restrictions that affect outside burning which is not relevant to us locally.


"Open burning" is the burning of undesirable items as in grass, leaves, twigs, branches, trees, paper, and other debris that emissions and smoke will be produced.

In short, this is your spring and fall yard clearing burns, bonfires, open campfires or any legal burning on the ground.


There is no tangible document or piece of paper you have to obtain to open burn. A burn permit is a notification that it is okay to burn, or rather permission to burn.

Burn permits are regulated under The Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act 451 of 1994. The two state agencies that regulate the decision to issue or restrict burn permits are the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

It is easy to find out whether or not you can burn on any given day by visiting the DNR website,


Wood is wood, right? Back in the day, that is what I always thought. Whether it was a 2x4 or a log, it was still wood, and I could burn it.

That is incorrect. The only wood that can be burned is wood in its natural form. An easy way to remember this is what I call the "rounded wood" rule. A branch, tree limb, a whole or split log are all round or once were and can be legally burned.

Untreated paper can be burned provided it is in a covered metal or masonry container, or burn barrel, with vent holes no larger than ¾ inches.

Burning of grass clippings and leaves are also allowed in our region.


Anything manufactured, fabricated, glued or processed — even though it is wood — is considered a building material and cannot be burned. Examples would be treated lumber, plywood, OSB, particle board and others.

It is argued that there is some lumber that is untreated, and contains no foreign chemicals. Speaking to area fire chiefs, that argument is invalid, nor would it be easy to distinguish the difference.

The easiest way to think of this is, if it was purchased in a store, don't burn it.

Obvious other prohibited items include: household waste, plastic, rubber, foam, chemically treated wood, textiles, electronics, chemicals, or hazardous materials.

The open burning of livestock carcasses is also prohibited.


Under a general burn ban, the burning of rounded wood for the purpose of food preparation or recreation is allowed, unless prohibited by local law. Recreational fires may also be prohibited if a special burn ban is issued due to dangerous fire conditions.

A guideline to follow would be having it enclosed, or recessed into the ground or in a fire ring, around two feet in length, with flames no higher than two feet. So, a reasonable campfire is generally acceptable.

The open burning of beekeeping equipment and products, including frames, hive bodies, hive covers, combs, wax and honey, is permitted for the purpose of disease control, unless there is a burn ban in effect.


Structures (as in houses, barns, and sheds) cannot be burned for the purpose of demolition. There are regulations that allow buildings to be intentionally burned for the training of firefighters. There are specific rules that must be followed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) when this is being performed.


There is no state law prohibiting the use of fireworks outdoors when a burn ban is in effect. The governor, the state fire marshal or the head of the DNR can ban fireworks usage in a county because of dry conditions.

Please use common sense. If there is a burn ban in affect, it is probably not a good idea to set off fireworks. You would be responsible for any fire that resulted or any damage that occurred due to carelessness.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to