Recreational Fires

Posted: Fall Semester, 2008
Area of Study:

Recreational campfires are common in Montana and many other places throughout the United States. Many people build fires for warmth on a hunting trip, cooking while camping, or for bonding purposes. These small campfires can take place outside in fire pits or designated areas made by rocks or blocks, or even a hole in the ground. These fires are made in a variety of ways including gathering fire wood from downed trees, limbs or pre-cut firewood that can be bought almost anywhere. When building these fires it is easier to use dry wood. Cedar is the best wood to use, birch is second best, and pine is the most abundant. In general the harder the wood, the longer it burns. Matches are the first necessity needed to start a fire, the best shape to build a fire is a teepee style, because air can then get to the fire. Fire starter, diesel or gasoline makes the fire start easier. Begin by using smaller sticks first and then add larger sticks to make the fire last longer. Be sure to have someone over eighteen with you to supervise. Many make these fires for a place to gather and enjoy, or a place to gather and keep warm. They are also built to cook food and tasty desserts. These fires can take place in backyards, at camp sites, in the woods, on river banks, or at lakes. Often, fires are used for social gatherings, camping, hunting, fishing, or even getting lost in the woods. Weather is the main thing that interferes with the ability to create these fires.

Juridic Controls:

Juridic loads vary in different parts of the state and at different levels. The state of Montana overlooks all the restrictions of the cities and counties. On private property there can be many fires without permits, but only during open burning times. In the city limits of Billings permits are required and can be obtained by going to the fire department and talking to the fire chief. Living outside the city limits, but still in Yellowstone County, still requires a permit to be obtained, but these permits can be obtained at the courthouse instead of by the fire hall. Restrictions can be put into place by weather conditions. If there has been no rain in a long time and the weather is very dry, fires are not allowed. They can spread much quicker than if the surrounding areas have recently been rained on. In the Stage I weather restrictions, a person cannot have any form of an open fire. Smoking is prohibited unless done in an enclosed vehicle or building. In stage two fire restrictions, all of the same restrictions apply with the added restriction of operating internal combustion engine, welding or using explosives from 1:00 PM to 1:00 AM is prohibited. If caught violating these restrictions, one could be fined for any damage caused by a fire that they may have been responsible for. Although many people use fires to get rid of waste, there are many items that cannot be burned, including rubber materials, dead animals, any waste moved from the premises where generated, food waste, all plastics, wastes with noxious odors, painted or stained wood, shingles, poultry litter, automobile parts, aircraft bodies, animal droppings, tar paper, oil, pathogenic wastes, chemicals, or Christmas tree waste.


There are fines that must be paid if a person is caught building a fire without the proper permits, including being fined up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization. Going to the court house or local fire station to obtain a permit is burdensome to a person. Depending on where a person lives, the weight of the burdens may vary. People who live out of town have to go to the court house during business hours to obtain a permit. A person may want to have fire for entertainment purposes, but may choose not to because of the fear of being caught and getting into trouble. Most of these juridic controls are inconvenient versus being intrusive. With county permits, you must call and inform them of when and where the fire is going to take place and then call again when the fire has been put out.

Escaping the Burden:

A person could evade the laws of enjoying fires by just ignoring the laws and doing what they wanted. This would make them more ethical. Enjoying a small fire would make it harder for a person to be caught, compared to a larger fire where smoke could be seen from miles away. Another way people may deal with these controls would be to completely ignore posted regulations with the expectation and disconcern of getting caught. Upon getting caught, they may choose to run from the authorities to escape punishment. Others may willingly accept payment of fines received in exchange for enjoyment from the fire. Many people may have a fire made up of prohibited materials, therefore avoiding those controls.

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