The seasonal ban on outdoor burning goes into effect today for residents of Columbia and Richmond counties.
The five-month ban affects 54 counties and is part of the state Environmental Projection Division’s effort to improve air quality during smog season.
The ban prohibits the burning of yard debris, including leaves, limbs and pine straw, through September. Burning household garbage is prohibited year-round by the EPD.
“Fires for agricultural purposes and forestry purposes only” will be allowed, said Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger Larry Felix, who leads the office overseeing Columbia and Richmond counties.
Some other types of fires also are allowed, including small cooking fires and campfires, Felix said. Those fires should be made with only cut firewood.
In addition to reducing the chance of forest fires, the ban helps 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, Columbia County Fire rescue personnel responded to 246 woods, brush and grass fires and complaints from both permitted and unauthorized outdoor fires, Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann said.
When the ban is in effect, firefighters responding to complaints of outdoor burning will ask the homeowner to extinguish the fire and explain the rules of the ban.
“Some people don’t know the law is in effect,” Kuhlmann said.
Felix said he doesn’t expect a lot of complaints about outdoor fires during the ban. But there’s always a few, especially because of the large number of transient residents in the area, such as military personnel.
“We really don’t have a problem when the ban goes into place,” Felix said. “The only time we have a problem is if they don’t know. ... Some of them may not know the burn ban is in effect.”
Those who are warned for burning during the ban can face misdemeanor charges, a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for continuing to burn.
Felix said instead of burning yard debris, residents can take it to an landfill. Leaves and other debris can also be mulched and placed in flower beds.
Some garbage companies also will pick up yard debris.