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What are the rules for backyard campfires in New Hanover County and Wilmington?

Robert and Carol Swift sit around their backyard fire pit on October 19, 2005. StarNews file photo.

In New Hanover County, residents are permitted to have campfires for cooking or heating purposes, as well as burn “natural vegetative debris,” according to Matt Davis, deputy fire chief for the county.

“It’s allowed as long as it’s in constant attendance and there’s somebody out there with it,” he said. “We do recommend that the fire is kept at least 50 feet away from combustible structures, and that they have some way of extinguishing it should the fire escape.”

Also important to note – should a fire jump your property, you will be held responsible for it.

“Let’s say they want to go out and do an open pit fire. Everything’s great, and later on that night the fire gets out and there’s damage to somebody else’s property. Ultimately, they’re responsible for it,” he said. “Even if they say, ‘I know that fire was out,’ you’re responsible for it if it gets out.”

For an open burn of vegetative debris, Davis recommended getting a permit from the county. The permit, which is free, is available online.

In Wilmington, residents aren’t supposed to have backyard campfires, though the policy is flexible for some things. According to David Hines, a spokesman for the city fire department, fires are allowable if they’re contained and are specifically for cooking purposes.

“If somebody is cooking in a pit, that’s okay as long as they’re doing it safely. Anybody could always call and make a complaint, but if they’re cooking, it’s allowed,” Hines said. “They can fix a pit on the ground, lay a piece of metal over it and steam oysters that way, that’s perfectly acceptable.”

Occasionally, people will take advantage of the loophole by burning debris while keeping a pack of hot dogs nearby, Hines said.

“That won’t work,” he said.

Ultimately, fire department officials have final say over whether a fire violates the rule. Residents also have the option of applying for a permit, but Hines said the department usually declines to issue them. Fines for fires within city limits start at $100 and increase with each violation.


Who pays for the water used by the fire department in the 2012 brush fire?

Why don’t the Wilmington Fire Department and New Hanover County Fire Rescue merge?  

User-contributed question by:
Adam Kniedler

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