Bans & alerts
What is a burning ban?
A burning ban legally prohibits outdoor burning. Bans are emergency measures, declared only when outdoor burning is deemed significant threat to public safety. There are two kinds of burning bans under SC State Law: a State Forester´s Burning Ban, declared by the director of the Forestry Commission, and a Governor´s Burning Ban, declared by the governor of South Carolina upon recommendation of the State Forester.
The State Forester´s Burning Ban prohibits starting any fire in or adjacent to “woodlands, brushlands, grasslands, ditchbanks, or hedgerows” (SC Code 48-35-50). This is generally interpreted to include all types of outdoor burning.
The Governor´s Burning Ban is less restrictive, making allowances for certain agricultural burning (SC Code 48-31-30).
In announcing a Burning Ban, the issuing authority will specify the area of South Carolina to which the restrictions apply. Neither the State Forester´s Ban nor the Governor´s Ban applies with the corporate limits of any town or city (SC Code 48-35-30 and 48-31-30).
Violation of either a State Forester´s Ban or a Governor´s Ban carries a fine of up to $200 for first offenses and at least $500 for second and subsequent offenses. Any burning to which a Ban applies also requires prior notification to the Forestry Commission, so ignorance of a declared Ban is not generally considered a viable legal defense.
NOTE: The Forestry Commission has issued 20 State Forester’s Burning Bans in the agency’s 90-year history.
21st century changes to SC’s burning ban law
- On May 19, 2017, SC Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law House Bill 3719, adding campfires and other recreational fires to the list of activities that can be prohibited under a State Forester’s Burning Ban. Previously, campfires, bonfires and open-fire cooking were conspicuous exceptions to the burning restriction imposed by such a ban, which the State Forester is given the authority by state law to declare in fire-, weather- and/or resource-related emergencies. The only outdoor burning that may be allowed now when a State Forester’s Burning Ban is enacted are “fires used for non-recreational purposes such as those for human warmth or for the preparation of food for immediate consumption.” The Forestry Commission sought the change in state law during the 2017 legislative session after an escaped campfire started the month-long, 10,623-acre Pinnacle Mountain Fire at Table Rock State Park in November 2016 that cost $4.8 million to fight. That Pickens County fire became the largest longest and costliest fire in Upstate history.
- On May 17, 2021, SC Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law House Bill 3541, adding section 48-35-55 so as to provide that the regulation of fires by the State Forester does not apply to fires used for the preparation of food or fires used in appropriate enclosures (portable outdoor fireplaces, chimineas, or permanent fire pits constructed of stone, masonry, metal or other noncombustible material that conforms with all applicable South Carolina fire codes); and to amend section 48-23-96, relating to the appointment of law enforcement officers to carry out the enforcement responsibilities of the Commission, so as to allow for the issuance of warning tickets.
What is a Red Flag Fire Alert?
A Red Flag Fire Alert is a wildfire danger warning issued by the SC Forestry Commission. The Red Flag cautions that wildfire danger is increasing, and that outdoor burning could become difficult to control.
A Red Flag Fire Alert does not prohibit outdoor burning as long as all other state and local regulations are followed. When a Red Flag is in effect, the Forestry Commission asks people to voluntarily postpone any outdoor burning.
While the Red Flag itself does not prohibit burning, it may trigger certain county or local ordinances that do restrict outdoor fires. To find out about these ordinances, contact your local fire department. Forestry Commission officers do not enforce local burning ordinances; that authority is reserved to city or county officers.
NOTE: The Forestry Commission has issued 62 Red Flag Fire Alerts in the agency’s 90-year history.
A Forestry Commission Red Flag Fire Alert is sometimes confused with a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning. The NWS Warning is issued when their forecast includes any two of the following conditions: sustained wind speeds in excess of 20 mph; significant wind shifts; relative humidity of 25% or lower; and high lightning potential.