Open burning: What is and what is not allowed

from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office
(updated: August 23, 2006)

PictureBoth the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office frequently receive calls and questions regarding open burning in Nebraska. Since there has been some confusion about these issues, the two agencies would like to remind the public about some important rules regarding open burning.

The most important rule is that only tree limbs, vegetation and non-treated wood are permissible to burn. Items such as shingles, plastics, tires and wood that have been chemically treated should never be burned. There is good reason for this rule – burning such items can create toxic fumes that contaminate the air. Nebraskans should instead seek safe alternatives. The best alternatives are reuse or recycling of materials. If these options are not available, properly dispose of the material at a permitted landfill.

Since 1980, Nebraska state statutes have placed a ban on all bonfires, outdoor trash fires, and fires for the purpose of clearing land throughout the state. This may only be waived by the issuance of a burn permit by the local fire chief, or his/her designee. There are numerous safety issues to be considered in the issuance of this permit, including weather conditions and location of the burn to ensure that the fire does not spread or cause harm to the public. It is therefore essential that a permit be sought from the local fire officials in any situation that involves outdoor burning, excluding cookouts and campfires.

Any law enforcement officer, upon discovering an open burn that has not had a local burn permit issued, may have the responsible party cited for burning without a permit. Burning without a permit carries a fine of $100 to $500.

In many situations, a state burn permit is also required from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. NDEQ’s primary focus in these permits is to ensure the environment is being protected. As stated previously, only limbs, vegetation and untreated wood are permissible to burn. Even if the proper local and state permits have been obtained, the agency can also pursue penalties if non-permitted materials are being burned at the site.

“We have had instances where people believed they could burn whatever they wanted after receiving a local permit,” said Todd Ellis, supervisor of NDEQ’s Air Compliance Section. “That’s not the case. Whether they have permits or not, the state can and will investigate and enforce against people who are burning unacceptable materials.”

Officials from NDEQ and the State Fire Marshal’s Office emphasized that these rules and the state’s enforcement policy are important for the protection of Nebraska’s communities. The rules are designed to prevent the spread of fires, and to keep Nebraska’s air clean and breathable.

For more information, refer to NDEQ’s Fact Sheet on Open Burning.


Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-2186