PEMCO Poll: Know the rules before burning outdoors this summer



​​​SEATTLE – As summertime settles in around the Pacific Northwest, about one-half of Washington residents will light an outdoor recreational fire, but the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance shows that a significant majority are unsure how county burn bans laws affect the average campfire.

The Seattle-based insurer found that 80 percent of respondents believe that county-issued burn bans include recreational fires when, in fact, some fire-safety conditions that trigger burn bans exempt campfires and recreational fires in approved fire pits.

“Though the laws vary by county, this latest poll shows us that outdoor burning could be more acceptable than many think,” said Jon Osterberg, spokesperson for PEMCO Insurance. “Here in King County, for example, recreational fires are still allowed during the first phase of a burn ban.”

According to King County’s Fire Marshal Services, there are two phases of burning regulations that are triggered when dry weather conditions increase the risk of wildfires.

A Phase One burn ban is typically declared when moisture content found in tree branches falls below 20 percent. During a Phase One burn ban, the county allows residents to light recreational campfires and fires contained in approved fire pits, while all other outdoor burning is banned.

However, if dry weather continues and the risk of a rapidly spreading wildfire increases, the county will escalate the ban to a Phase Two burn ban during which all outdoor fires, including recreational fires, are illegal.

To be considered recreational, the fire must not exceed three feet in diameter and two feet in height, must be contained in a metal or concrete pit, and be limited to the burning of charcoal or firewood for cooking, pleasure, or ceremonial purposes. According to the PEMCO poll, 10 percent of residents light recreational fires 10 times or more per year.

“If you plan to light a fire this summer, check with the authorities before you burn,” Osterberg said. “In some cases, you might need to apply for a no-fee burning permit.”

In Washington, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) works in concert with the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) and county fire marshals to issue county-specific burn bans and provide fire-safety resources for outdoor enthusiasts.

“It’s always a good idea to call the DNR’s statewide hotline at 1-800-323-BURN, before you burn, for the most up to date information on your county’s burn-ban status,” Osterberg said.

When conditions allow safe burning, the DNR recommends building recreational fires 50 feet away from any buildings, power lines, or standing timber, and you should clear a perimeter of about one-and-a-half times the fire’s height of any burnable material.

Most important, monitor the fire as it burns. The law requires that an alert adult monitor a recreational fire at all times, keeping a shovel, extinguisher, or water hose on hand to extinguish the fire if necessary.

Finally, completely extinguish the fire when you’re finished. The DNR instructs residents to drown recreational fires with water, making sure all embers, coals, and sticks are wet.

To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit​, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare to those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April 2011.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 601 respondents, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.1 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit