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Winter open burning season begins in parts of Montana

Montana DEQ
Posted at 10:22 AM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 16:09:58-05

HELENA — The beginning of December marks the start of the winter burning season in Montana, but there are additional requirements for people planning large outdoor burns.

During December, January and February, open burning in several western Montana counties requires approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) 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 DEQ air quality planner Rhonda Payne.

DEQ Burning Zones
Courtesy: Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Between Dec. 1 and 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.

However, the Montana DEQ winter burn program is not available to Missoula County residents. Outdoor burning will reopen in Missoula County on March 1, 2022. People can purchase a burn permit at after Jan. 1 and start using it on March 1.

“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.

Payne noted it’s important for people to double-check with their local authorities as well before a burn. “Burn smart,” she said.

Editor's note: The Montana DEQ winter burn program is not available to Missoula County residents. That information was omitted from a previous version of this article.