There's still snow on the ground, but this week brings a sure sign of spring, as landowners can once more burn their debris.

March 1st marks the return of outdoor burning season across Montana, which begins the weeks-long process of disposing of debris on private and public property, including "essential agriculture". It also marks the start of when state and federal agencies can start prescribed burns to cut fire risk, although usually, that won't happen until conditions dry out in a few weeks.

In Missoula, Ravalli, and other counties that means anyone planning to burn must obtain a burn permit. And in Missoula County as an example, you're only allowed to burn "untreated wood and vegetation generated onsite." You can't bring debris from other locations to a burn pile.

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In Missoula County, those permits cost $7 per year and can be purchased online, or in person at most local fire protection agencies.

Inside the Missoula city limits, burn piles must be at least one acre in size to qualify for a burn permit, and recreational fires, such as bonfires, are never allowed. Inside the Missoula Air Stagnation Zone, which is an area extending about 4 miles outside the city, you also can't burn leaves and grass because of the large amount of smoke they can generate. In those cases, property owners are encouraged to compost the debris.

The Missoula County Fire Protection Association also warns people who want to burn to use extra caution, to make sure the blaze doesn't spread into dry grass and brush that hasn't "greened up".

“Many people don’t realize the wildfire potential in the spring. If you have a typical spring day in the 40s and add frost-killed dry grass and a strong breeze, you have a recipe for a controlled burn to get quickly out of control. Most people tend to burn relatively close to houses and outbuildings and these structures can become threatened very quickly.” - Missoula Rural Fire Chief Chris Newman

In Missoula County, you can find safe burning tips at or by following the MCFPA. Facebook page @MissoulaCountyFireProtectionAssociation. More quality info is available on the county's website.

In Ravalli County, burn permits are still free in 2023 and the county encourages people to renew their permits from year to year to save processing costs. Bitterroot residents are reminded they need to renew their permits, and then activate the permit every day they plan to burn. The county is also asking people to take precautions to keep open burns under control.

If you lose your burn permit number, you can contact the Ravalli County Sheriff's Office at 406-375-4060 during regular business hours or the county's non-emergency number on evenings and weekends at 406-363-3033. More regulations are included on the county's page. 

Ravalli County burn permits can be renewed online. 

READ MORE: DEQ info page on Montana burn permits

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