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Fire Regulation in Texas on the State and Local Levels

With several deadly wildfires currently raging in California, I thought it would be pertinent to discuss some Texas fire laws at this time.

First, did you know that cigarettes sold in Texas must undergo testing and certification for ignition propensity? Essentially, this testing is intended to determine whether a discarded cigarette is likely to start a fire.

Some cigarette manufactures use “lowered permeability bands” within the cigarette paper itself to comply with the performance standard required for certification. These bands cause a cigarette to burn itself out before the threshold burn length required for certification has been exceeded. Take a close look at a cigarette sometime and you may be able to see a few of these bands strategically placed along the length of the cigarette.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulates outdoor burning in Texas. There is a general prohibition on outdoor burning, which states “[n]o person may cause, suffer, allow, or permit any outdoor burning within the State of Texas, except as provided by [Subchapter B, Chapter 111, Title 30, Texas Administrative Code] or by orders or permits of the commission.” The exceptions to the general prohibition include fires used for recreation, ceremony, cooking, and warmth, but these allowable types of burning must nevertheless adhere to certain requirements for health and safety.

Another exception to the general prohibition is prescribed burning, which may be utilized to accomplish certain planned land management objectives, including wildfire hazard mitigation purposes, which is literally fighting fire with fire. The Texas Natural Resources Code establishes a Prescribed Burning Board to oversee such prescribed burning, and to ensure that standards are followed.

In addition to the TCEQ regulations, the commissioners court of a county may prohibit or restrict outdoor burning if drought conditions are determined to exist by the Texas Forest Service. The county fire marshal is charged with enforcing all state and county regulations that relate to fires, explosions, or damages of any kind caused by a fire or explosions; however, the county fire marshal may not enforce orders and decrees in a municipality unless required to do so by an interlocal agreement.

Municipalities have broad authority to regulate certain fire related activities, and even the physical characteristics of buildings and other structures within the municipality. For example, a municipality may prohibit the construction of wooden buildings within certain areas designated within the municipality. Also, a municipality may require the owner or occupant of a building to maintain means of accessing the roof and may even require the inhabitant of a building to maintain as many fire buckets as prescribed by the municipality. Many municipalities also prohibit the use of wood shakes and shingles as roofing materials within the building codes adopted by the municipality. Some municipalities also require certain buildings and structures to install fire suppression systems such as overhead sprinklers.

There are many other fire related laws applicable to persons, places, and things in Texas, but unfortunately, no law can prevent someone from starting a calamitous fire either intentionally or accidentally. It is up to each individual Texan to conduct themselves in a way that minimizes the risk of a fire raging out of control. It’s like Smokey says: only you can prevent forest fires.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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