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Is It Legal to Have a Bonfire?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

With summer in full swing, everyone's getting their BBQs and bonfires on. But is it actually legal to have a bonfire?

Growing concerns about air quality and smoke blowing into neighborhood homes are causing some lawmakers to place legal restrictions on bonfires. Even in Southern California -- a haven for sun, sand and bonfire pits -- the regional air quality board voted Friday to reduce the number of beach fire pits and move them farther away from homes, reports Los Angeles' KNBC-TV.

So how do you know if bonfires are allowed where you live?

Check Local Laws

Let local ordinances and park rules be your guide. Many place age restrictions on bonfires. Generally, someone over the age of 18 must be present until a bonfire bash is over.

In some places, there are extra bonfire restrictions on large groups of minors. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, minors having a beach bonfire must be supervised by one person 21 or over for every 10 people under 18, according to the National Park Service.

Other common restrictions may include:

  • The time of day you can have a bonfire,
  • The type of weather in which you can have a bonfire,
  • The type of materials you can use for a bonfire, and
  • The location of a bonfire.

From rural areas to urban areas, and backyards to parks, rules on bonfires vary widely on a regional basis. Be sure check your local laws to find out the exact rule in your area -- or contact a local attorney.

Find Out Whether You Need a Permit

Permits are often required to have a bonfire in certain areas like on a beach. Permits may be required for bonfires on either publicly accessible or private land. In some cases, larger groups need to obtain special permits.

Typically, the person obtaining the permit must be present during the hours of the bonfire. You may have to present your approved bonfire permit upon request of a fire official or police officer.

If you get caught having an impromptu bonfire without a required permit, you could face penalties, including fines and possibly even jail time.

In Florida's Walton County, for example, people who light a beach bonfire without a permit may face a fine of up to $500.00 and/or up to 60 days in jail.

Prepare for Potential Liability Issues

Remember, if any bonfire participant gets hurt, or if the fire gets out of hand, you may be liable for any damages or injuries.

For example, if you cause a wildfire, you could be liable for the firefighters' response, too. If any firefighters lose their lives in the line of duty, you may be on the hook for it.

Remember the sage advice of Smokey Bear, and always:

  • Use paper and matches rather than lighter fluid/gasoline to ignite your fire,
  • Keep the stack of wood low and manageable,
  • Burn clean, unpainted wood that doesn't have nails or metal (and bring your own firewood, not driftwood), and
  • Keep the bonfire a good distance from nearby cars and houses.

So if you're planning to have a bonfire, don't stick your head in the sand. Be sure to do a bit of research beforehand to stay legal and safe.

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