Prescribed Fire Liability

The State of Florida is the highest user of prescribed fires in the U.S., and its ecosystems are dependent on it. Prescribed fires not only reduce hazards to life and property that are associated with wildfires, they also control vegetation and invasive pests, and increase the habitat for many endangered species in the region. Prescribed fires are, however, not without their own distinct hazards, and the Florida Legislature has set forth extensive statutory requirements that regulate their use.

Rules for Safe Burning

Under Florida Statute § 590.125, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) is charged with adopting rules for the responsible use of prescribed burning. These include:

  • Obtaining a written prescription for the burn
  • Having a certified burn manager on site
  • Obtaining a burn permit
  • Specific consent of the landowner
  • Adequate firebreaks and personnel

Burning authorization is required for all agricultural, silvicultural, landclearing, pile and acreage burning.  Burning authorization from the FSS is not required to burn yard waste, but if the fire spreads, the person conducting the burn may be liable for any resulting damage and must pay for the costs of suppression.

Note that there are numerous administrative rules and local ordinances for prescribed burning, with more restrictions on noncertified burners than on certified ones (for example, noncertified burners have more limited time restrictions and lower dispersion indices).  In all cases, open burning is not permitted if it poses a risk of reducing visibility on public roads to less than 1,000 feet or where the fire or the smoke threatens public health, safety or property.

Protection for Certified Burners

FFS certified fire practitioners are generally protected from liability under Florida law if the burn is in the public interest and the burn does not constitute a private or public nuisance under state air pollution laws.  Neither the property owner nor his/her certified agent can be held liable for any damage or injury caused by the fire or the resulting smoke unless you can prove gross negligence.

Note that the FFS is not liable for any damage caused by burns that it has authorized.

Motorist Responsibilities

Under §392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, drivers are responsible for exercising extreme caution when operating a motor vehicle in hazardous conditions, and for finding a safe place to pull over if driving conditions are too dangerous.  In January of 2012, ten people lost their lives due to impaired visibility from a fire, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported that driver behavior – including failure to slow down, stopping in the middle of the road, and alcohol use – contributed to the pileup.

Tough Cases Require Tough Representation

These are tough cases which require representation by experienced lawyers with ready access to a team of investigators and experts in the field.  To obtain maximum compensation, be certain to retain the services of an aggressive law firm with lawyers who have an in depth knowledge of Florida’s laws, administrative rules and local regulations concerning prescribed fires.

If you have any questions on this blog or need information on other personal injury queries, please call the Law offices of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath located in West Palm Beach at 1-800 4-RIGHTS  (1-800- 474-4487)  We welcome your call and look forward to helping you.