Ultimately, Hollis Key didn't get what he came for.
Key, a resident of Fox Run subdivision in Martinez, is a proponent of a total county-wide ban on outdoor burning, calling burning a nuisance, a health threat and a danger to surrounding property.
At a Thursday meeting, his hopes for such a ban in Columbia County went up in smoke as the Columbia County Fire and Emergency Medical Service Advisory Board decided against recommending to county commissioners a total ban or other county restrictions.
Instead, the board voted to send a memo recommending to commissioners that "citizens look at adding burning restrictions to their subdivision covenants and that if they do not have a covenant, that those subdivisions be looked at individually for restrictions based on their desire within the subdivision," said Pam Tucker, the county emergency services director.
Last month, more than 100 calls both for and against an outdoor burning ban flooded Tucker's private line after Key posted filers imploring residents of several neighborhoods to call to support a burning ban imposed by the county.
Thursday's memo recommends more strenuous enforcement of existing county codes and increased efforts to educate the public on the correct ways to burn, Tucker said.
Commissioners will have the final say on what, if any, changes to the county's open burn requirements are made, Tucker said.
Currently, the Columbia County Open Burning Code is the same as state law. The code includes the state-mandated 50-foot buffer from structures, that burn piles be 6 feet by 6 feet or smaller and burning is regulated by the Georgia Forestry Commission. Burning permits are required and burning is banned statewide from May 1 through Sept. 30.
Martinez resident Rose Orr, who said she prefers burning restrictions in the densely populated Martinez-Evans area, said neighbors burn regularly and the smoke drives her and her children indoors.
She also said she has had ash, embers and flames threaten her property.
Orr and Key said that in lieu of an all-out ban, they would be satisfied with restrictions prohibiting burning within 100 feet of a structure, mirroring regulations in Richmond County.
"I will not stop continuing to work on getting some kind of fire control in congested areas of the county," Key said.
Steve Abbott, Georgia Forestry's chief ranger senior for Columbia and Richmond counties, said that despite possible danger, burning should not be banned as it is a valuable tool to clear yards of organic debris, is economical and saves landfill space.
In the end, many board members said they were not comfortable recommending either restriction because a total ban would prohibit recreational fires and the burning of yard debris, and the distance requirement would effectively prohibit burning in many subdivisions in Columbia County.
Tucker said residents have recourse if they are bothered by a neighbor's fire.
Residents should contact the fire department if bothered by smoke from an open burn, Tucker said.
Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Chief Doug Cooper said his department will respond to assure the fire is under control and request it is extinguished.
Habitual violators may be taken to court, Tucker said.
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