Sonoma County Pile Burning Regulations and Guidance in the Rainy Season
By Jacob McDaniel, January 2021
Before You Burn
Now that fire season is over and the rains have returned, regulations around pile burning have opened up throughout Sonoma County. Pile burning can be an effective method of reducing fuels around your home and promoting healthier forests, but it is important to burn safely and in compliance with pertinent regulations. Before burning, check that it is a permissive burn day, as well as that day’s weather forecast — Never burn in windy conditions or during unfavorable weather. Make sure to prepare the burn site, clearing the zone around the pile of vegetation to allow for a 10 foot clearance of bare dirt around the pile. Watch for overhead hazards like power lines and tree branches. Build your pile of dry vegetative material only. Dense piles with heavy material on top should result in good consumption of fuels. Piles should be no more than 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall, keeping in mind that more material can always be added as the pile burns down. Keeping piles manageable will help them burn down to hot coals by the end of the day, resulting in lighter smoke impacts to the surrounding community. This is because burning during times of the day with less relative humidity will result in a hotter, less smokey burn. Air quality issues from burn piles can often arise at night when an inversion occurs and fog settles in since smoke and heat are trapped closer to the ground and particulates can’t dissipate into the atmosphere. While burning, an adult should always be present and water and a shovel should be readily available at all times.
Pile burning after the end of fire season generally does not require additional permitting or inspections from Cal Fire beyond an annual burn permit, which is free and remains valid for the calendar year. You can obtain one of these permits by watching a short safety video and entering your information on the Cal Fire burn permit website. In addition to this permit, you must coordinate with your regional air quality district in order to burn. These eased regulations are only in place until about May 1st when fire season returns. Sonoma County is regulated by two air quality districts, Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. To determine which district you should coordinate with and purchase your burn permit from, consult this map.
Burning Regulations by District
Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District (NoSoCoAir)
Generally, the air quality districts include the following:
- Bodega Bay
- Camp Meeker
- Fort Ross
- Knights Valley
- Monte Rio
- Russian River
- San Antonio
- The Sea Ranch
- Timber Cove
Permit fees for residential burning in this district are $30. Once you have purchased your permit from the website, make sure to call the day before to notify of your burn and get the weather forecast from the air pollution control district.
Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)
BAAQMD generally includes the following communities:
- Bennett Valley
- Glen Ellen
- Gold Ridge
- Rancho Adobe
- Rincon Valley
- Rohnert Park
- Santa Rosa
- Schell Vista
- Sears Point / Skaggs Island
- Twin Hills
- Two Rock
- Valley Ford
- Valley of the Moon
Burning in BAAQMD’s boundary comes with greater regulations. If you live in the communities listed above you are prohibited from burning yard debris such as pruned branches, lawn clippings, and gathered leaves. However, you may burn for forest management, range management, and wildland vegetation management, as well as other agriculturally focused burns like the removal of crop stubble and pruned material from orchards. Pile burning for the purposes of forest protection and forest health are allowed on non commercial forest properties. To learn more about each type of approved burn in this air quality management district and see if your planned burn fits into an approved category, visit https://www.baaqmd.gov/permits/open-burn. Permit fees in this district vary by burn type.
Lastly, regardless of where you burn you must report your burn location to REDCOM, the Sonoma County Dispatch Center, at (707) 565-1700 once you have been given clearance to burn.
More Information and Resources
- Cal Fire Debris Burning Hand Out
- Residential Landscape Debris Burning Safety Information
- Sonoma County Air Quality District Boundaries
Burn Permit Information by District: