Lots of people burn yard debris such as cut branches and cleared shrubs, but while this is usually legal with a permit, it can also be a dangerous practice under certain circumstances.
Weather conditions play a big part in whether it's safe to burn debris or whether your backyard burn could spell a wildfire in the works. For example, wind can quickly cause the flames rising off a pile of burning yard waste to spread into unwanted territory.
To prevent an accidental gust from generating a full-fledged wildfire, there are a few steps you can take to help ensure everything proceeds smoothly. For starters, give the fire department a call the day you plan to burn to get a professional opinion. They may advise you to wait a few days, especially if it's been particularly hot and dry.
Next, determine whether there are any potential hazards either hanging over your intended burn site or located too closely to the perimeter. Make sure there's open space at least three times the height of the debris pile above, and at least 10 feet (3 meters) away horizontally in all directions. That space should be watered down and covered in either gravel or dirt.
After the debris pile burns completely -- all under the watchful eye of an observer armed with a precautionary water supply -- it should be shoveled over and watered repeatedly. Then the site should be checked several times for the next few days and even weeks to make sure all the sparks are fully extinguished.