Up in flames in Wellesley: a how-to for (legal) backyard burns

Wellesley burn, 2016Every Spring in our yard, with the blessing of the Wellesley Fire Department and the Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention, we exercise our right to do our much-anticipated open-air burn. All that brush that has been too much trouble to haul to the dump’s yard waste area gets dragged out from its pile at the the edge of the property line and set afire. Thorny rose vines, branches the trees have dropped throughout the year, my old Palm Sunday palms, the Christmas tree (which goes up in spectacular style), hedge clippings, and other woody debris are all fair game. The burn is a little tradition that requires the strong backs of the young to lift the debris and toss it onto the pyre coupled with the patience of the old (that’s me) to tend the fire once the excitement wears off and the pizza that I bribed my helpers with arrives.

We aren’t the only pyromaniacs in town. According to a fire department representative, this year 40 households in town applied for a permit and 67 requests to burn were granted.

It’s easy to  get an Open Air Burning Permit in Wellesley. You just have to follow a few simple rules. The Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations lays out the following directives:

The disposal by burning brush, cane, driftwood and forestry debris, excluding hay, leaves, and stumps from January 15 to May 1 shall be conducted:

a) at a location greater than 75 feet from any dwelling (this rule is probably the most challenging for Wellesley residents, given the close proximity of homes to one another)

b) Between 10am and 4pm

c) On land proximate to the place of generation

d) While in constant attendance and until completely extinguished.

e) The Wellesley Fire Department requires that garden hose be available at the site of the burning.

Permission to burn must be obtained each day that you wish to burn. Weather conditions are taken into consideration when determining if burning will be allowed each day. No permission to burn will be granted after 1pm.

That’s all there is to it. You sign your agreement to these rules, which must be done at the Wellesley fire station at 457 Worcester St., and you’re given a number. On the day you want to burn, you call the Fire Department, identify yourself by your permit number, and you will receive permission, or not. The OK is not a given. There are a few weather particulars that can stand in your way. If the cloud cover is too low, you’ll get a no. If it’s windy, it’s a big no. If it’s been dry lately, that’s another no. I’ve sweat it out some years as the May 1 deadline signaling the end of burn season crept closer and closer and I kept hearing, “Not today, ma’m. Too windy,” or “Not today, ma’m, too dry.”

But when the conditions are right, and the labor is willing, there’s nothing to match a good old-fashioned backyard burn. Here are some pictures of our yearly ritual:

Here's what we started with, an accumulation of brush piled up over the past year at the property line.
Here’s what we started with, an accumulation of brush piled up over the past year at the property line.

Next step is to get the fire going. No accelerants are allowed, but a few crumpled up pages of newspaper are ok to get things going.
Next step is to get the fire going. No accelerants are allowed, but a few crumpled up pages of newspaper are ok to start things out.

IMG_0567
Things are coming along nicely here.

Wellesley burn, 2016

My enthusiastic helpers. They've just put the Christmas tree onto the fire.
My enthusiastic helpers. They’ve just put the Christmas tree onto the fire. Thanks, teenagers, I couldn’t have done it without you.