Grass fires signal high fire danger during spring green up – despite the slow melt and lingering snowpack

Dry dead grass is extremely flammable. Small scale burn permits do not cover ditch or fuels reduction like burning around tree bases.  

Brush pile burning is one of the leading sources of human caused wildland fires in Alaska. Exposed, dead grass and brush in yards and around burn barrels can dry out within just a few short hours of sunlight and become extremely flammable. When burning brush piles always only burn one pile at a time, keep the piles smaller than 10 feet in diameter and four feet high, clear at least 10 feet of ground surrounding the pile to mineral soil, and stay with the pile until completely out and cool to the touch. It’s imperative to have water and tools on hand to control the fire. Never leave any fire, even those in burn barrels, unattended for even a short time. It only takes a matter of a few seconds for a fire to spread out of control if you are not prepared and spring grass fires often lead to unintended property damage.

A grass fire started by an escaped debris burn on East Burlwood Drive in Wasilla burned three vehicles and threatened nearby structures on Monday, April 19, 2021. Photo by Kevin Lankford/Alaska Division of Forestry.

Lawn burning specifications require you to only burn maintained lawn no larger than one acre and four inches in height. Always maintain an eight-foot wet perimeter on the ground around the burn and stay with the lawn until completely out and cold to the touch.

Despite recent moisture and slow snowmelt, spring winds can also contribute to the spread of grass fires. As the weather warms up, high-pressure systems can bring strong, dry winds that can quickly spread flames across large areas. It’s important for people to be aware of these factors and take precautions to prevent grass fires during high fire danger periods.

Burn permits are free and are available at local Division of Forestry & Fire Protection office, at many local fire departments and can be found online for printing at

Safe Burning Guidelines

  • Small-scale burn permits are required for debris burning and the use of burn barrels from April 1 to August 31. To obtain a permit, go to or stop in at your local Division of Forestry & Fire Protection office.
  • Debris piles must be 10 feet in diameter or less and no more than 4 feet tall.
  • Burn only one debris pile at a time and keep the pile small and manageable, feeding the pile as you burn.
  • Construct a fire break 10 feet wide down to mineral soil around debris piles and at least 6 feet wide around burn barrels before lighting the fire.
  • Don’t burn during windy periods. Check your local area conditions by phone or go to to make sure burning is allowed.
  • Never leave a fire of any kind unattended. Have at least 1 adult attend the fire at all times until the fire is completely out.
  • Have sufficient tools and water on site to control the fire and prevent it from spreading.
  • Do not burn debris piles or burn barrels within 30 feet of structures or under utility lines.
  • You are only allowed to burn paper, untreated wood, and organic debris in a burn barrel.
  • Burn piles must contain only untreated, unpainted wood and organic material.
  • If you plan on burning anything larger than a 10-foot diameter debris pile you must call the Alaska Division of Forestry to apply for a large-scale permit and a DOF prevention officer must inspect the pile before you burn.
  • Call 911 immediately if there is a wildland fire emergency.

Recent history of spring wildfires due to dry brow grass catching fire.

  • Aftermath of the small grass fire and burned grass in a field with neighborhood and houses close by

Kenai-Kodiak Area

A burn pile escaped, spreading to surrounding grass and continued burning in deep ground material on Saturday, April 29 2023. Central Emergency Services Fire Department and DOF engines responded, and the fire was contained and controlled at .2 acres.

Tok Area

Tok DOF and Tok Fire Department responded to reports of a fire 22 miles east of Tok on Saturday, April 29 2023. The fire was caused by a ruptured lithium battery that fell off a vehicle and burned .1 acres of the surrounding grass after another vehicle ran over the battery. The fire was called contained and controlled.

Mat-Su Area

Mat-Su area DOF responded to two human caused fires on Sunday, April 30 2023. The first was caused by a heat lamp in a chicken coop that spread and smoldered in grass. Central Fire Department was on scene when DOF arrived, and the fire was controlled and contained at .1 acres. The second fire was an escaped lawn burn that spread into surrounding grass and brush. DOF engines and Sutton Fire Department contained and controlled the fire at .1 acres.

We can all do our part to prevent grass fires and reduce the risk of wildfire during the spring green up. With a little awareness and effort, we can all work together to prevent these unintended wildfires from occurring. Spruce Moose reminds us all to “Take time to learn before you burn”.

Categories: AK Fire Info, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF)

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