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Fire is not an acceptable form of waste disposal. In most cases, it is illegal to burn tree leaves, garbage, yard clippings, construction debris, fallen tree branches and limbs, and other refuse in Louisville/Jefferson County. Recreational fires are permitted in fire pits and portable receptacles that meet certain specifications. Ceremonial/celebratory bonfires are also permitted if certain conditions are met. Download a PDF of the APCD's open burning brochure.
- What Is Open Burning?
- The Rules
- More Information
- Alternatives to Open Burning
- See also: Application Forms
- See also: Recreational Fire FAQs
While sitting around a campfire is cozy and an ancient tradition, this is an urbanized area. With more than a million people in Kentuckiana, there would be a significant amount of pollution produced if people could have open fires any time they wanted to do so. And with any fire, there's the possibility of the fire getting out of control, risking lives, natural resources and property. For these reasons, open burning is generally prohibited in Louisville/Jefferson County. Exceptions are described below.
As defined in APCD Regulation 1.02, "open burning" means "the burning of any matter in such a manner that the products of combustion resulting from the burning are emitted directly into the outside air without passing through a stack, chimney, vent, or other functionally equivalent opening."
While burning a pile of leaves or having a bonfire for a party may seem harmless, any fire releases harmful materials. Emissions from fires include irritating particles (PM10 and PM2.5), toxic chemicals, carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. The last two can form ground-level ozone, especially on sunny days. Burning garbage can produce much larger quantities of toxic materials, such as dioxins.
These pollutants can
- cause or exacerbate asthma
- cause or exacerbate emphysema
- trigger a heart attack
- cause birth defects
- damage the nervous system
- cause other health problems
Children and the elderly are especially sensitive to the air pollutants produced by fires.
APCD Regulation 1.11: Control of Open Burning describes under what conditions open burning is or can be permitted in Louisville/Jefferson County. Fires are also subject to approval from your local fire department. Other laws and regulations may also apply, depending on the circumstances.
- Burning of trash and yard waste is prohibited in Louisville/Jefferson County.
- You may have a fire to cook food for a non-commercial purpose, such as a backyard cookout. Read the regulation for details.
- If you are cooking food for a commercial purpose, you need to enclose and properly ventilate the cooking fire with a chimney or similar device. Restaurant and catering services must also follow Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness Department regulations for such a business.
- A fire pit is an acceptable permanent or portable outdoor receptacle or device that meets certain specifications. The fire pit height cannot exceed 3 feet, and the fire pit opening (or burn area), cannot be larger than 3 feet wide by 3 feet long, or 3 feet in diameter. See the regulation for more details.
- If you want to hold a recreational or ceremonial fire, such as a bonfire, you must get a permit (Recreational Fire Permit Application) from APCD at least five (5) working days ahead of time, and notify your local fire department. A recreational/ceremonial fire is a fire that that's larger than necessary for cooking or is kept burning longer than necessary for cooking. (Excluding fires that are kept covered most of the time, as in a covered grill or a smoker.) Note that even with this approval, the recreational/ceremonial fire cannot be held if the wind is faster than 15 mph or it is an Air Quality Alert day. See FAQs about recreational fires.
- Agricultural fires for controlling weeds, diseases or pests, etc. can be approved after written recommendations from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the local fire protection district, as can fires for management of forests, orchards, range, native grasslands or wildlife. See the Agricultural Burn Application.
- Fires can be set for fire-fighting training, if approved by APCD at least five working days in advance. See the Fire Training Burn Application.
- With an APCD operating permit, a flare can be used to burn off waste gases. The flare must have a smokeless tip and the opacity of the emissions cannot exceed 20 percent.
- There are various other exemptions in unusual circumstances. For example, certain materials may be burned in the open if the Department of Public Health & Wellness has declared that to be necessary for controlling a public health hazard.
- Learn more about alternatives to open burning.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle: ways to reduce trash, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- If you live in Kentucky outside Louisville/Jefferson County, see open burning information from the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and the Kentucky state open burning regulation.
- If you live in southern Indiana, see open burning information from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).