While a Columbia County contractor will pick up debris left from the recent ice storm, some residents are choosing to dispose of fallen trees and limbs themselves.
“Even though the county says they are going to haul it off, you’ve still got some people who prefer to burn it,” said Larry Felix, a Georgia Forestry Commission ranger who oversees the Columbia and Richmond County office.
“If the county is going to haul it off, that’s the best avenue,” Felix said. “It’s much safer that way.”
But some residents would rather burn debris than wait up to 45 days for the county contractor to remove it.
A Holiday Park resident left his backyard debris fire unattended Feb. 19. That fire crawled across the dry grass to a neighbor’s yard. The fire burned the privacy fence and nearly burned his neighbor’s shed.
“These limbs were burned, that pile was started in the grass,” Columbia County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Jim Champion said, adding that fires should have about 25 feet around them. “If you’ve got grass around your fire, it’s going to burn, especially when it’s dead and dry. You need a barrier.”
From Feb. 11, when the ice storm began, through Friday, the fire department responded to 16 complaints of outdoor burning. Those calls entail a variety of circumstances, including neighbors complaining of smoke or potential danger to out-of-control fires.
Only four of those calls were grass fires that began from controlled burns.
Before burning, residents need to get a permit from the Forestry Commission by calling 1 (877) OK-2-BURN or visiting www.gatrees.org.
Felix said his office has been steadily issuing permits to residents since the ice storm and said the free permits are issued only when the weather presents a low fire threat. The weather and whether permits will be issued are re-evaluated daily.
“If the winds are up, even if they have a permit, we don’t want them to burn,” Felix said.
According to the permit, residents are only allowed to burn limbs, leaves and other organic yard debris from their own property. The fires can burn from dawn to dusk only.
If an unpermitted fire gets out of control, Felix said, the homeowner could be cited and held liable for the fire suppression costs.
Those who still want to burn debris should do it responsibly. They should have a shovel, rake and water hose handy.
“Never leave your fire unattended,” Felix said.
Champion said to be a good neighbor and let those who live near you know you’ll be burning and to let you know if the smoke is troublesome.
“To keep from upsetting your neighbors, you need smaller piles,” Champion said. “You don’t have to pile it all up and have a giant fire. Just have a small pile and add to it.”
Champion also said to never use flammable liquids to start fires. It’s explosive and dangerous.
When burning is finished, fires need to be completely extinguished.
“Make sure it is out, soaking wet,” Felix said. “I prefer people to soak it, turn it over, wet it, turn it over and put some dirt on it.”