Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas like forests. These dangerous fires spread quickly and can devastate not only wildlife and natural areas, but also communities. wildfires can travel and burn a football field per second, and they are even more dangerous when they are close to homes and businesses. They can spread quickly if care is not taken when burning debris. Learn more about fire safety from New Hanover County Fire/Rescue.
Careless debris burning is the leading cause of wildfires in North Carolina. If you live in the unincorporated areas of New Hanover County, materials like wood, paper, trash, and yard debris can be burned in your backyard. You must have a permit, and make sure there is no active burn ban in place. Visit the North Carolina Fire Service web page for information on getting a burn permit and for the status of burn bans in the County.
There is NO open burning allowed inside the city limits of Wilmington. Visit the Wilmington Fire Department's web page for more information.
Learn Before You Burn
- Check the weather conditions. Don't burn when it is windy, very dry, or there is a burn ban in place.
- Make sure you have the proper permits in place and in hand.
- Do not burn household trash, plastic, or tires. When permitted, only burn dry, natural vegetation grown on your property.
- Look up! Choose a safe burning site away from powerlines, overhanging limbs, buildings, vehicles, and equipment. You need at least three times the height of the pile of vertical clearance.
- Look around! The site should be surrounded by gravel or mineral soil (dirt) at least 10 feet in all directions. Keep the surroundings watered down during the burn, and have a shovel close by.
- Prepare your pile. Keep your piles small and manageable. Add additional debris as outlined in your permit as the fire burns down.
- If using a burn barrel, make sure it is made entirely of metal, properly equipped with at least three evenly-spaced three-inch screened vents and a metal top screen) and in good condition.
- ALWAYS stay with your fire until it is completely out. Drown the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel, and drown it again. Repeat this several times.
- Check the burn area regularly over the next several days, ESPECIALLY if the weather is warm, dry, and windy.
Recognize Warnings and Alerts
- Have several ways to get alerts. This includes signing up for emergency alerts from New Hanover County, downloading the FEMA app, and having a NOAA Weather Radio to get alerts. Make sure your cell phone is set to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and know how to get information from the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on your TV or radio.
- Pay attention to air quality alerts.
Make an Emergency Plan
- Make sure everyone understands what to do if you need to quickly evacuate
- Don't forget a plan for the office, the kids' daycare. and anywhere you frequent Make an Emergency Plan.
Review Important Documents
- Make sure your insurance policies and personal documents are up to date.
- Make copies and keep them in a secure password-protected digital space.
Strengthen Your Home
- Use fire-resistant materials to build, renovate or make repairs
- Create at least a 30-foot fire-resistant zone that is free of leaves, debris, or flammable materials.
- Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows and set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist.
Know How to Evacuate
- You may have to evacuate quickly. Learn your evacuation routes, practice with pets and family members, and identify where you will go.
- Have enough supplies for your household, including a first aid kit, in your go bag or car trunk.
- Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and to address minor medical issues at home, alleviating the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
- Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips.
- Be cautious when carrying flammable or combustible household products that can cause fires or explosions.
- If available, store an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation.
- Keep your cell phone charged when wildfires could be in your area. Purchase backup charging devices to power electronics.
- Pay attention to emergency alerts and notifications for information and instructions.
- Evacuate immediately if authorities tell you to do so!
- Check for the latest information about public shelters or evacuations on the County's emergency website.
- Consider making plans with friends or family to shelter with them where you may be safer and more comfortable.
- If trapped, call 9-1-1 and give your location, but be aware that emergency response could be delayed or impossible. Turn on lights to help rescuers find you.
- Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke by doing the following:
- Choose a room to close off from outside air and set up a portable air cleaner or filter to keep the air in this room clean even when it’s smoky in the rest of the building and outdoors.
- Use high efficiency filters in your central air conditioning system to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has fresh air intake, set the system to “recirculate” mode and close the outdoor intake damper.
- If you are not ordered to evacuate but smoky conditions exist, stay inside in a safe location or go to a community building where smoke levels are lower.
- If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter in place, if possible.
- Do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so.
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire.
- When cleaning, wear protective clothing – including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves and sturdy thick-soled shoes – during clean-up efforts.
- Use a respirator to limit your exposure, and wet debris to minimize breathing dust particles. People with asthma, COPD and/or other lung conditions should take precautions in areas with poor air quality, as it can worsen symptoms.
- Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance.
- Send text messages or use social media to reach out to family and friends. Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
North Carolina Forest Service District Eight office
North Carolina Forest Service Online Burning Permit System
Current NC Wildfire/Emergency Response Situation Report
Order tree seedlings from the NC Forest Service Tree Seedling Store
Check out the Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest to learn more about longleaf pines and the forest's economic, ecological, historical, and cultural significance.
Survivor Stories Video Series from Ready.gov
Wildfire Safety Information Sheet
Smokey Bear Info on Backyard Debris Burning
Create a "clean room" to protect indoor air quality
Smoke Ready toolbox for Wildfires from the EPA
Additional information on wildfires can be found at Ready.gov in: