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You are here: Home / Prescribed Burning / Policy and Regulations

Policy and Regulations

Policy and Regulations

Federal fire policy requires that agencies incorporate fire as a critical natural process into their land and resource management plans and activities on a landscape scale and across agency boundaries (NIFC)

Laws and regulations surrounding prescribed fire vary greatly across state and local jurisdictions. Concern about legal liability has been shown to be a major impediment to prescribed burning on private lands. However, many Southern states have passed laws aimed at limiting the liability of those using prescribed fire, providing they do so in accordance with the laws.

The resources on this page will be helpful in understanding concepts related to prescribed laws and regulations, including prescribed fire permitting, liability, and insurance. You should always consult your local jurisdiction to fully understand the laws and regulations applicable to you before using prescribed fire. If you work with an agency or organization, consult a representative of that entity as well, as you may need to follow additional guidelines.

A number of resources cover basic principles and information related to prescribed fire liability and risk.

  • Prescribed Fire: Understanding Liability, Laws and Risk was published by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, and co-authored by Extension fire professionals from across the United States. It outlines many basic concepts related to prescribed fire liability and laws, including to what extent common beliefs about those topics are backed up by research.

  • A Southern Fire Exchange webinar on Statutory, Regulatory and Legal Constraints on Prescribed Fire in the USA provides an overview of the legislative and legal landscape related to prescribed fire, as well as information on data from a recent study showing that how different statutory configurations can impact how much prescribed fire is being implemented on private lands.

  • The 2018 Prescribed Fire Use Survey Report includes a variety of information related to liability, including a map depicting the degree of liability defined in each state’s prescribed fire law, if applicable. Note that this map does not distinguish between liability for fire and smoke.

Most agencies and organizations cover the potential liability of employees who conduct prescribed fires. Some private landowners also choose to purchase prescribed fire insurance in order to protect themselves from potential liability. The Southeast Prescribed Fire Update Insurance page contains resources for those interested in purchasing this type of insurance. The Forest Stewards Guild recently completed a survey aimed at understanding prescribed fire insurance needs and potential solutions. Results from that survey will be shared through the Fire Learning Network when available.

In some states in the South, prescribed burners must obtain a burn permit before they start a burn. Obtaining the permit and complying with subsequent guidance such as burn bans and red flag warnings may be helpful in reducing potential liability. The Southeast Prescribed Fire Update Resources page provides links to burn permitting information for each state, if available.