Recently, the state enacted a burn ban during the COVID-19 crisis, which suspends the ability to burn yard debris, leaves, twigs and logs.

This is exactly like the ban in the summer when the ground is dry, been a lack of rain, or during drought conditions. It has been advised to me that the ban is in effect to limit the exposure of first responders to these type of calls as well as tying up valuable resources that could be dedicated elsewhere.

Due to this ban, we have received many questions and complaints relating to campfires and open burning. What's allowed, what isn't, can I have a campfire and so forth.

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 of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to

As always, it is an honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.