Preparing your yard for fall can leave you with piles of trimmings that attract insects and look unsightly—but burning yard waste can be a cost-effective way to keep your lawn clear. Of course, there’s nothing cost effective about starting a fire. To safely burn yard waste, follow these 5 steps.

1) Check city ordinances.

Local and state governments have different regulations for open burning of leaves and tree trimmings. Before you light up those leaves, check with your city or county government to find out if and what you can burn. Some ordinances specify specific spacing instructions, but if your city doesn’t 50 feet from any structures you own and 150 feet away from your neighbor’s property is a good rule of thumb.

2) Create a barrier.

Before you burn debris, create a square up to 4 feet wide using cinder block. Always keep piles of debris under 3 feet tall and allow the pile to burn down before adding additional debris. The area around your cinder block square should also be clear of sticks and leaves for at least 10 feet in any direction.

3) Don’t burn on windy days

Choose a windless day to burn any yard waste. Wind can blow sparks from your fire pit onto dry grass, leaves, or structures outside your designated burning area, and in dry climates can even cause forest fires.

4) Start the fire with matches.

Accelerants like gasoline can turn a small yard waste fire into a huge unmanageable fire in minutes. Never start your fire with gasoline—stick to dry leaves, newspaper, and matches.

5) Watch it go out.

Burning debris in your yard requires constant attention, so plan to stay with the fire until all the waste is done burning. When you’re finished ridding your yard of unwanted debris, douse the fire with water, spread the coals with the shovel, and keep spraying with water until the area is cool to the touch. Then, check the area every day for the next few days—especially if you live in a dry climate.

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