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Ban on outdoor burning begins today

Posted: April 29, 2012 - 12:00am  |  Updated: May 1, 2012 - 3:54pm

Twitter @ValerieRowell

Those living in Columbia and Richmond counties have two days before the seasonal ban on outdoor burning goes into effect.

The five-month ban, starting Tuesday, affects 54 counties. It is part of the state Environmental Protection Division’s effort to improve air quality during smog season.

The ban prohibits the burning of yard debris, including leaves, limbs and pine straw. EPD instituted a year-round ban on burning household garbage.

Some fires will be allowed, including approved agricultural burns, small cooking fires and campfires, said Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger Larry Felix, who heads the office overseeing Columbia and Richmond counties.

“It will undoubtably reduce the chance of a forest fire taking place,” Felix said.

The ban on open burning also will keep ground-level ozone and other pollution levels down during the summer months.

When it’s warm, nitrogen oxides combine with fumes from fuels, paints and vegetation to form ground-level ozone, which can lead to poor air quality and aggravate respiratory ailments.

During the period burning was allowed, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue personnel responded to 129 complaints from both permitted and unauthorized outdoor fires, spokesman Jeremy Wallen said.

During the ban, firefighters responding to complaints of outdoor burning will ask the homeowner to extinguish the fire.

“Most people do,” Wallen said. “We usually don’t run into any problems.”

Wallen said he doesn’t expect many complaints about outdoor fires during the ban. But there’s always a few, he said, that burn during the ban out of ignorance.

“They don’t completely understand the system,” Wallen said. “They don’t know about the ban. They don’t know about the permit.”

Residents caught burning during the ban face stiff penalties. Those wanting to report an unauthorized burn should call Georgia Forestry’s Columbia County office at (706) 556-3962 during business hours, or 911 for the fire department after hours and on weekends.

Firefighters will respond to any complaint and explain the law to those burning illegally, said Wallen.

Warnings are issued to first-time offenders. If the fire department must respond to the same residence twice, the Forestry Commission is notified. Felix said his agency has the power to issue warnings and citations for county ordinance violations.

Until Tuesday, residents can still obtain a permit to burn their yard debris, weather permitting.

“We issue permits based on the weather conditions,” Felix said, adding that high winds and low humidity prohibit burn permits because of the risk of the fire spreading.

For more, or to obtain a permit before the ban on outdoor burning goes into effect, visit www.gatrees.org.

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