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Ready for BBQ Season? Fire Ordinances in the DMV

Now that the mid-May cold snap is over, just about everyone is gearing up and getting excited for one of the best parts of summer: barbeque season. If you’re planning your next backyard BBQ, it’s a good idea to brush up on the fire ordinances in your county – the last thing you want is an unexpected ticket ending your party on a sour note!

Not only is it important to familiarize yourself with state laws, but if you’re planning a big event, you should look up your county’s fire ordinances as well.

Fire Ordinances in Maryland

Maryland’s fire ordinances vary by county, but most have similar laws in place. For example, look to Anne Arundel County’s fire laws. In Anne Arundel County, fires for recreation (like bonfires and campfires), leaf burning, cooking, or space heating for outdoor workers, events, and construction sites are all allowed without a county license, so long as they are located at least 50 feet away from any building or burnable materials. However, recreational fires must be no larger than one cubic yard or less, and you’re not allowed to build leaf-burning fires between June 1 and August 31.

If you’re planning for a larger burn, such as a big bonfire or other open, large-scale fire for a religious, ceremonial, or celebratory event you must obtain a county permit. To do so, submit an application to the Housing and Food Protection Services Program at least 14 days before your event, otherwise your request might not be processed in time.

Fire Ordinances in Virginia

Like Maryland, Virginia’s fire codes depend on the county. Fairfax County’s fire laws offer a good example of what to expect in Virginia. Most recreational fires, including bonfires, backyard fire pits, and cooking fires, do not require a permit in Virginia. However, Virginia’s distance requirements are a little less strict than Maryland’s: no recreational fire can burn within 25 feet of any structure or any materials that could catch on fire.

Fairfax County’s Code Compliance Guideline for fire safety, is helpful to review no matter what county you live in. These guidelines tackle many of the “common sense” rules for fire safety and are best used in conjunction with your county’s fire safety laws.

Fire Ordinances in Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital has stricter fire laws than both Maryland and Virginia. Overnight bonfires are against the law, but open burning, recreational fires, portable outdoor fireplaces, and day bonfires are allowed so long as they are constantly monitored and located at least 15 feet away from any building (25 for recreational fires and 50 for bonfires). Barbeque pits are regarded as the same category as bonfires.

All recreational fires, no matter their size or purpose, must be constantly attended to at all times. You can face significant fines for any fire that is left unattended, is located within 50 feet of anything that could catch on fire or is burning without a fire extinguisher (or other fire-extinguishing tools, like water, sand, or fire blankets) close at hand.

In general, the best practices for a recreational fire are as follows:

  1. Build your fire or place your fire pit, open flame grill, or barbeque pit in an open area, at least 25-50 feet away from any buildings, and be sure to clear away any materials that could catch on fire for at least 25 feet in every direction.
  2. Always monitor and keep a watchful eye on your fire. Assign a team of “fire guards” to babysit the fire, even if it’s down to smoldering embers, and make sure that everyone at your event knows not to leave the fire alone.
  3. Make sure you have immediate access to a fire extinguisher or other fire-extinguishing equipment, like buckets of water, sand, or dirt.
  4. Ensure that everyone at your event knows the basic rules for fire safety. Keeping an eye on a fire isn’t one person’s job – every attendee should know the signs of a fire getting out of hand, and all kids should be carefully supervised near an open flame.
  5. At the end of the night, be sure your fire is completely out! Walking away from smoldering embers could land your family a hefty fine.

Happy BBQ season!

DISCLAIMER:  The information above is for general informational purposes only.  No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information.  Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.