Pam Tucker is hoping Sunday's end of the statewide ban on outdoor burning will get neighbors talking to one another and prevent complaints about debris fires and smoke.
"I think if everybody will be considerate of their neighbors and talk to them ahead of time, just work with people if you are in a subdivision," said Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.
Residents in rural areas should not pose a smoke problem as long as they are following the state guidelines.
Just before the ban on outdoor burning went into effect May 1, Tucker said, county officials considered tightening restrictions because of a large number of complaints that the county's 311 center received concerning smoke from yard debris fires. Those additional restrictions would prohibit outdoor burning within 100 feet of structures, banning it in most subdivisions.
Tucker warns that if the 311 center experiences an overwhelming number of complaints about open burning and smoke, those restrictions will be put into place. But Tucker believes that letting neighbors know about outdoor burning ahead of time would help.
"It creates such good will," Tucker said. "You might find that people say, 'It will be fine,' and they'll stay indoors. You've given them consideration.''
The Georgia Forestry Commission's Columbia/Richmond County office has already received lots of calls about obtaining a burn permit, which is required to legally burn yard debris such as leaves, pine straw and small limbs, said Ranger 1 William Brantley. He said he expects a rush of calls requesting permits when the ban is lifted.
"Use common courtesy when burning," Brantley said. Anyone burning should have a rake and other tools and a water source nearby.
Burn permits, which must be obtained before burning, can be gotten on the forestry commission's Web site, www.gatrees.org, by calling (877) OK2-BURN (652-2876), or by calling the Columbia County office at (706) 556-3962 or the Richmond County office at (706) 771-4922.
Daily burn permits are good only for the day they are issued for burning yard debris such as leaf piles and small limbs smaller than 6 feet by 6 feet. Fires can be started at 8 a.m. and must be extinguished before dark.
In heavily populated areas, such as neighborhoods, burning cannot begin until 10 a.m. and must be put out 30 minutes before dark, according to the forestry commission. It is illegal to burn man-made materials such as shingles, tires and plastics.
Permits will not be issued on days when the fire forecast is high, when weather conditions make fires more likely to spread or get out of control.
Brantley said Thursday that he expects the fire forecast to get higher into the fall when winds pick up and humidity lowers.
Grovetown, in addition to following the state regulations, also bans outdoor burning on Sundays within the city, said Grovetown Department of Public Safety Capt. Gary Owens.
If the fire department is called to respond to an unpermitted fire, the resident will be charged for the cost of the response. If someone issues a complaint about the fire or smoke, the fire department will make sure the fire is under control and request it be extinguished. Residents with multiple complaints will not be issued burn permits again.
The smoke from fires affecting nearby residents is the biggest problem associated with outdoor burning, Brantley said. Residents burning are responsible for their fire and smoke.
Tucker said controlling smoke and letting neighbors know ahead of time will help control the number of complaints. Burning dry materials in smaller than regulated piles will help keep smoke to a minimum, Tucker said.
Tucker recommended alternatives to burning yard debris, especially for residents with neighbors bothered by smoke because of health or other reason. Debris can be chipped and used for mulch or composting.
Yard debris can be taken to a commercial processing/grinding/composting facility or to an inert or construction/demolition landfill such as Sample and Son Inc. on Columbia Road. Tucker said some garbage haulers offer to haul away yard debris.
For more information on the outdoor burning restrictions, visit www.gatrees.org or www.columbiacountyga.gov.
To get a burn permit:
Visit www.gatrees.org or call (877) OK2-BURN, which is (877) 652-2876. If weather conditions are favorable and you are issued a permit, it is good only for that day, and you are allowed to burn only natural vegetative materials. To reduce the amount of smoke from the fire, make sure the material is dry by spreading it out before burning. Burning is permitted from 10 a.m. until 30 minutes before dark in highly populated areas of Columbia County and in the cities of Grovetown and Harlem. In Grovetown, burning is not allowed on Sundays.
To report a complaint:
Contact your area fire department, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue at (706- 863-7745; Grovetown Department of Public Safety at (706) 863-1212; or Harlem Department of Public Safety at (706) 556-6262. The department will respond to make sure the fire is under control and then request that the fire be extinguished. Ongoing complaints at a home could result in a discontinuance of permits to the residence.
Columbia County restrictions:
Following state guidelines, outdoor burning is prohibited from May 1 through Sept. 30. During the rest of the year, outdoor burning is allowed from 10 a.m. until 30 minutes before dark, provided the property owner has a burning permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission the day of the burn.
Yard debris, such as leaf piles and small limb piles, is not to be larger than 6 feet by 6 feet, and materials being burned must be vegetative and dry.
Sources: Georgia Forestry Commission; Pam Tucker, Columbia County Emergency Services Division director
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