Leaf Burning

Open Burning Restrictions in McHenry County

The open burning of landscape waste regulations went into effect in 2008. view the summary.

So… What do I do with my yard waste and leaves, you ask?!? What are the alternatives? Many municipalities will collect bagged yard waste (fees may apply) and there are commercial composting facilities (see below). But –

Home Composting and mulching are a great answer! In the fall, you can move the leaves onto garden beds to protect perennials over the winter. If the leaves haven’t broken down by spring, add them to the compost pile. Or don’t rake the leaves at all – leave them under the trees as nature intended!

Questions about the McHenry County Open Burning Ordinance

By Patricia Nomm, McHenry County Director of Environmental Health 

  • Does the new ordinance apply to everyone?

    A: The Open Burning Ordinance applies to all areas of McHenry County. However, some municipalities have more restrictions for open burning than the county ordinance. Residents of municipalities should check with their city regarding additional local restrictions.

  • Does the Open Burning Ordinance allow the burning of garbage, rubbish or trash?

    A: Burning of garbage, rubbish or trash is prohibited throughout all of McHenry County.

  • What is the definition of garbage, rubbish or trash?

    A: Garbage, rubbish and trash encompasses a variety of waste including but not limited to paper goods, cardboard, food waste, animal waste, household discards such as furniture, clothing, mattresses, etc, construction debris, appliances, and similar items. Questions regarding what constitutes a waste may be directed to the McHenry County Health Department.

  • What are some of the restrictions included in the Ordinance?

    A: All landscape waste must be generated onsite. No burning may take place within 100 feet of a habitable structure or within 50 feet of a non-habitable structure. Supervised burning of dry landscape waste may be conducted between dawn and dusk on Saturday or Sunday during the months of April, May, October and November. Water or a fire control source is required; winds must be less than 10 mph and smoke may not create a visibility hazard.

  • Can I still burn landscape waste if I live on a small lot?

    A: It depends on whether the minimum setback requirements can be met. A minimum 100 foot setback to all habitable structures and a minimum 50 foot setback to all non-habitable structures is required.

  • Do the open burning setback requirements apply to domestic fireplaces, external fireplaces or grills or self-contained outdoor wood-burning devices?

    A: No. Provided these units are operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and are not used to dispose of leaves, grass, shrubbery clippings, cuttings, garbage, rubbish or trash.

  • What if the only area of my yard greater than 100’ from any habitable structure or 50’ from any non-habitable structure is located in the road right-of-way?

    A: Open burning is not permitted on public or private roads, in the road-right- of- way, alleys, sidewalks or easements and burning  within the right-of-way could create a visibility hazard for motorists.

  • Are campfires allowed?

    A: YES. The Ordinance allows for recreational fires provided they are no larger than 3’x3’x3’ and exclude leaves, grass or shrubbery clippings or cuttings.

  • Are bonfires allowed?

    A: YES.  The Ordinance allows for ceremonial fires (bonfire) provided they exclude leaves, grass or shrubbery clippings or cuttings. In addition, you must notify your local fire protection district and obtain a permit from the McHenry County Health Department prior to the event.

  • Is burning allowed for habitat restoration?

    A: YES. Consistent with existing state law the Ordinance allows for prescribed open burning for ecological restoration, natural landscape management, reclamation and/or firefighter training. A permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is required. You may visit the Department’s website at www.mcdh.info to link to the Agency’s website to apply for the required permit.

  • What are my options if my burning area does not meet the minimum setback requirements?

    A: Please visit the Department’s webpage at www.mcdh.info or call us at 815.334.4585 for tips on composting, mulching, native landscaping or other natural environmentally safe alternatives to open burning. You may also contact your waste hauler, who is required to offer landscape waste pick up for their customers. Please note the waste hauler may charge an additional fee for this service.

  • Who should I contact if I have a concern of non-compliant burning in my neighborhood?

    A: Multiple agencies may respond to burning complaints. The McHenry County Department of Health, local law enforcement agencies (municipal police, sheriff’s department,) fire departments and fire protection districts may enforce the Ordinance. If you reside in a city with a local Ordinance, you should contact the city.  Agencies who respond to complaints of open burning of landscape waste are responsible for a variety of issues.  Agency response will be prioritized according to protocol established by each agency.  If you are reporting a fire that is life threatening or is a fire safety issue, CALL 9-1-1

  • Where can I get more information regarding the Open Burning Ordinance?

    A: Visit the McHenry County Department of Health’s web page at www.mcdh.info or contact the Department at 815-334-4585.

Yard Waste Drop-off Sites

If no local drop-off is available, the following commercial sites will accept certain yard wastes:

Rockriver Valley Compost
Located on Baxter Rd. east of I39
Rockford, IL 815-874-5870

Midwest Organics
29353 N. Darrell Road
Wauconda Township, IL 847-493-9116

Thelen Composting Facility
Located at Rte 173 & Wilmot RD.
Spring Grove, IL 815-675-6613