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Open Burning


The information in this document applies to all open burning and outdoor fires on Cornell University property, including campfires, bonfires, fire bowls, other recreational type fires, and Prescribed Burns (as defined by NYS DEC Regulations Part 194).  All University organizations, including departments, colleges, academic units and administrative units must comply with these guidelines.

Open burning and fires are subject to local and state regulations and laws governing the fire's location, size, and duration, the materials to be burned, and any permit requirements.  This document summarizes those requirements and additional campus requirements.

Failure to follow these guidelines will result in cancellation of the event, revocation of the open burning permit, and possible denial of future use of university property or permission to conduct open burning.  Violations may also result in referral to the Cornell University Judicial Administrator and/or criminal charges.

Barbecue Grills & Outdoor Cooking Equipment

The information in this document does not apply to the use of charcoal and propane gas fueled cooking equipment.  Refer to the EHS Event - Grills & Cooking Equipment Safety document for information on using that equipment.


  • The open burning of garbage, refuse, rubbish, and demolition materials is prohibited.
  • The open burning of any non-natural material is prohibited.
  • The burning or use of any flammable or combustible liquids or other chemicals to start fires is prohibited.
  • Any open burning not specifically authorized by this document is prohibited.
  • Any open burning that endangers the health or safety of any person is prohibited.

Authorization for open burning

The University Fire Marshal Office should be the first point of contact for all open burning request and questions on the Ithaca campus

Authorization for open burning requires filing and complete approval of:

  • Event Registration Form
  • Cornell University Open Burning Permit
    • Paper copies of the form are available from the University Fire Marshal Office, located at 201 Palm Road.
    • Electronic copies of the form are available at Event Management Open Burning Permit.  Review and approval of these forms and permits is required from a number of University departments. Please begin the process at least 3 weeks prior to the date of your event.

Authorization and permits may be required from other non-Cornell regulatory agencies. Obtain University Fire Marshal Office approval first on all open burning permits. The University Fire Marshal Office will indicate what other authorizations and permits are required.

  • All open fires in the City of Ithaca require an open burning permit from the Ithaca Fire Department. A fee is charged for this permit. These fees may vary. Please reach out to the University Fire Marshal Office for current pricing.

All permits and authorizations for open burning are contingent upon:

  • Site inspection and approval by Environment Health & Safety personnel
  • Acceptable weather conditions at the time of the event
    • high winds and/or extremely dry conditions are cause for cancellation of the permit.
  • Terms and conditions of any required permits.

Copies of the completed and approved Open Burning Permit, Event Registration Form, and any other required permits must be on site during the event.

Location of Fire

  • The fire site shall be at least 50 feet from any building, structure, tent, vehicle or other exposure.
  • There shall be no overhead obstructions above the fire site.  This includes trees, wires, and building overhangs. 
  • The fire site shall be on a grass, gravel, dirt, sand or other unfinished surface.  Fires are not permitted on roadways, parking lots, sidewalks, and other finished surfaces.
  • Open fires are not permitted in the Cornell Plantations Arboretum, on the Cornell Golf Course, gorges, or other areas that are not easily accessible by fire apparatus.
  • The fire site shall be located in an area where smoke from the fire will not enter nearby buildings.  When selecting a site, evaluate the location of windows and building ventilation intakes.

Size of Fire

The size of fire shall be kept to the minimum needed for the purpose of the fire.  The use of commercially available portable fire bowls is strongly encouraged for all campfire size fires as they help contain the fire and minimize the potential for damage to ground surfaces.  More than one fire bowl may be used at a time.

Materials Being Burned

Only untreated wood and agricultural products may be burned:

  • Untreated wood (firewood, rough sawn and dimensional lumber)
  • Hay
  • Straw

Materials not listed above may NOT be burned or used to start the fire.  Prohibited materials include treated wood (including railroad ties, telephone poles, and pressure treated lumber), paper, construction debris, garbage, refuse, plastic, tires, furniture, petroleum products, flammable or combustible liquids, and chemicals.

It is recommended that you take precautions to ensure that the wood and other materials for your fire remain dry.

Fire Protection Equipment

The following fire protection equipment must be available on site:

  • Three 2.5 gallon water fire extinguishers

  • One garden hose connected to a water source and capable of reaching all sides of the fire site may be used in place of one of the fire extinguishers. 

To borrow extinguishers, contact Wayne Westmiller or (607) 592-8535. Never remove extinguishers from buildings. There is no charge for borrowing the extinguishers however, the organization sponsoring the event is responsible for lost or damaged extinguishers.  Extinguishers may be picked up and returned at the B21 Humphrey's Service Building, 639 Dryden Road, Ithaca, N.Y. Monday-Thursday from 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Fridays 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Onsite fire extinguishers shall only be used for emergency fire extinguishment purposes.  Misuse of onsite extinguishers is grounds for revocation of the open burning permit.

Fires larger than 3 foot or may require standby services from Environment Health & Safety and/or the local fire department.  Fees may be charged for these standby services.

Fire Extinguishment, Cleanup & Damage

The organization sponsoring the event is responsible for ensuring that the fire is completely extinguished at the completion of the event.

  • Hot coals may not be left unattended and may not be placed in garbage dumpsters
  • Allow adequate time for the fire to burn down prior to the end of the event
  • Have an adequate water supply to completely extinguish the fire
  • Hot coals from even a small fire can take large amount of water to extinguish

The organization sponsoring the event is responsible for cleanup of all materials from the event. This includes garbage, trash, unburned materials, ashes, partially burned materials, nails, etc.

The organization sponsoring the event is responsible for all damage to Cornell University property including fire damage to the grass.

The organization sponsoring event will be charged for any special services provided by Cornell University Departments or others including, but not limited to, repairs, cleanup, on site standby and lost or damaged fire extinguishers.

Other Requirements

  • The fire may not be lit until:
    • The burn site has passed inspection by EH&S personnel
      • setup must comply with all terms of the open burning permit
      • strong winds and dry conditions are not present
    • Any inspections required by other permits have been completed
    • Fire must be attended at all times.
    • Fire must not be allowed to spread to surrounding grass or brush
    • No running through or jumping over the fire
    • Call 911 if the fire spreads or you lose control of the fire.

More Information

For further information email or call 607-255-8200