HELENA — In Montana, the first day of December is the start of the winter burning season, when there are more requirements for people planning large outdoor burns.
During December, January and February, open burning in western Montana counties requires approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. However, even if DEQ signs off, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good day to burn.
DEQ is focused on air quality. They will restrict burning if an area is experiencing an inversion – when cooler air becomes trapped below warmer air. That can keep particulate matter from fires close to the ground, especially in low valleys.
“When the public really thinks it’s a great day to burn – when there’s no wind and it’s quiet and it’s still, because they know that the fire’s not going to escape from them – those are the worst days for air quality, because we know we’re not going to get any movement in the atmosphere to disperse that smoke,” said Rhonda Payne, an air quality planner with DEQ.
From Dec. 1 to March 1, people in the western zone need a permit for open burning. They need to submit a “Winter Time Open Burning Request” ahead of the burn, then get approval from a DEQ meteorologist on the scheduled day.
“Even though you might not be able to burn on the exact day you want to, there will be another opportunity at some point during the winter,” said Payne.
You can find full information on burning requirements on DEQ’s website.
Days like Wednesday, when the state saw strong winds, may not trigger an air quality concern, but they do pose fire safety risks. Payne said it’s important for people to double-check with their local authorities as well before a burn.
“Burn smart,” she said.
In Lewis and Clark County, the Augusta area is still closed to open burning. Sheriff Leo Dutton, the county’s fire warden, asked the public to be cautious and avoid burning on days with strong winds and other dangerous fire conditions.