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Do Burn Bans Include Barbecues And Smokers

Are you ready to fire up the grill or smoker for dinner tonight?  Great!  Before striking that match however, you might want to check if there’s a burn ban.  

Burn bans either go into effect to prevent wildfires during dry seasons or to protect air quality other times of the year.  In both cases, it is extremely important to follow the rules set by your local authorities.  Violating burn bans can potentially harm your community and put a dent in your pocket book with expensive fines.

While any time seems like a good time for backyard barbecues, it’s still worth asking if burn bans include barbecues and smokers as well.

Cooking on a gas grill is not usually illegal during a burn ban.  Likewise, electric and propane smokers are seldom included in burn bans unless the ban is related to air quality concerns.  Generally, only grills and smokers that burn wood, lump charcoal or briquettes are prohibited during burn bans because of excessive smoke and the risk of wind blown embers.

No one wants to get in trouble but you also don’t want to miss out on delicious food.  So, read on and I’ll help you decide if a burn ban will put a damper on your bbq plans. 

What is a local burn ban

Anyone who loves to grill should make it a point to stay informed about local burn bans.  There are different stages of burn bans that restrict what type of burning or cooking is permitted.  A Stage 1 ban may indicate a moderate fire danger or health risks and grilling or using a smoker might be okay.  Stage 2 bans, on the other hand, often come with stricter regulations resulting from more severe fire and health risks.

Burn bans are put in place to protect people and property when fire danger is high.  A burn ban may also go into effect when air quality concerns indicate the need to reduce pollutants produced by fire smoke.  It’s important to obey all bans for the sake of your community and your own health.

Depending on the region where you live, the decision to implement a burn ban for wildfire prevention and for air quality hazards is decided by the state’s natural resource department or the environmental quality department.  

Keep in mind that burn bans are strictly enforced.  So, stay on top of the latest restrictions before you fire up the barbecue or smoker.

How to find out if there’s a burn ban in your area

The majority of burn bans are reported during your local news broadcast when high fire danger or poor air quality are severe.  However, not everyone is glued to the television.  If you are like me, you’re more concerned with getting that steak seasoned just right.  Even so, we are individually responsible for knowing the laws regarding burn bans.  

The first step to figuring out if there is a burn ban around you is to understand your area’s fire risks.  Most of us have a general sense when fire danger is high or when bad air quality is a concern where we live.  For some, a lack of rain makes spring through fall a long, dry period of high fire danger.  For others, winter air inversions allow smoke to settle in valleys which cause dangerous health problems for everyone.

When you suspect a fire ban is in place, there are a couple sources for reliable information regarding active burn bans.  

By far, the best source of up-to-date burn ban information is your local fire department. 

Be sure to call the non-emergency number.  There is always someone available to answer your questions about burn bans and what fire related activities are permitted.  There may also be an online portal through your local city website that has information regarding current fire bans.  

In some areas, there are burn ban hotlines you can call at anytime to get the latest updates about fire risks.

However you choose to look up burn ban information, make sure you fully understand which kinds of fire activities are allowed.  Generally, the laws are fairly concise.  Yet there are times when it’s tough to know if grilling or cooking with fire on your property violates a burn ban.  In that case, I recommend calling your fire department.  After all, they are the ones most likely to issue a fine for burn ban violations.  

What kind of smokers and grills are allowed

When there is a burn ban, it’s good to know which kind of barbecues and smokers you can even use.  Not all grills are legal to use during certain kinds of burn bans.  The first thing to know is the type of burn ban that’s currently in place.  

Under most burn bans, propane and natural gas grills are legal to use.  They don’t generate unsafe levels of smoke and they pose very little fire hazards from wayward embers.  

Wood burning or charcoal grills, however, are almost always prohibited during Stage 1 and 2 burn bans.  They generate significant levels of smoke but most of the danger comes from embers or discarded briquettes that make their way to dry fuel sources and spark a fire.

For anyone wanting to get their electric smoker or pellet grill going during a burn ban, the rules get a little fuzzy depending on where you live.  I have yet to see any specific rules prohibiting electric smokers during a burn ban of any kind.  They pose almost no fire hazard since the wood chips are contained inside the smoke box.  There is also not much smoke generated from an electric smoker.

Pellet grills are in a gray area as well.  I’ve learned through some diligent research that because pellets are contained in a fire box and burn completely to ash, there is no danger that any pellets will start a fire.  In terms of air quality, pellet grills do produce a fair amount of smoke.  Again, I have yet to see in any official document specifically banning pellet grills during a fire ban.

Grills and smokers that use solid fuels like wood and charcoal are most frequently banned during air quality and fire safety bans. 

Can you get in trouble for grilling during a burn ban

There are always the stubborn few or those who just don’t know any better.  They light up their charcoal grills whenever.  Ban or no ban.  Sure, you probably won’t get caught.  But if you do, the fines can be steep.  Your grilled chicken dinner just got a whole lot pricier.   

Violations of local burn bans carry fines upwards of $1000.  Some fines are well over $5000 and even carry jail time.  If you happen to cause a fire that results in property damage or loss of life while partaking in prohibited recreation fire activities, you could face criminal prosecution.  

So yes, you can definitely get in trouble for using a barbecue or smoker that is restricted during a mandatory burn ban.  

When you are unsure if you can legally start grilling, call your local fire department.  Still not sure?  Then put away the charcoal grill or wood fired smoker and try a propane grill instead. 

Final thoughts

Remember, ignorance is no excuse.  As responsible backyard barbecuers, we all need to stay informed about burn bans.  Once you have the go ahead from local authorities, grill to your heart’s content.  When you don’t know, just put the grill away and save the backyard barbecue for another day.