Columbia County residents will not be allowed to burn their yard debris after Monday.
Tuesday marks the beginning of a five-month ban on residential and commercial burning for the third consecutive year.
The outdoor-burning ban, instituted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to improve air quality during smog season, will extend through Sept. 30.
Tom Atkinson, an EPD environmental specialist with the Air Protection Division, said the burn ban affects 54 counties including Columbia and Richmond counties.
The Atlanta area, Macon and the Georgia portion of Chattanooga are currently "non-attainment" zones, meaning the air quality does not meet federal health standards and can be harmful to breathe. The formation of ground-level ozone is the primary concern.
Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides coming from man-made and natural sources react in the presence of sunlight. A major source of these pollutants is the burning of fuels and other combustible materials. High ozone levels can most affect the elderly, the very young and those with asthma or pulmonary problems.
"Augusta, right now, is faced with the PM 2.5 standard more so than ozone," Atkinson said of particle pollution, which can be more dangerous than ozone because the fine particles and liquid droplets can move into the bloodstream through the lungs.
Emissions from power plants and vehicles are large contributors to particulate pollution in addition to open burning, Atkinson said.
If the level of particulate pollution rises high enough, the Augusta area will be deemed a non-attainment zone. Such a designation would require stricter rules for future transportation planning and much more stringent rules on industry. Such restrictions can easily deter new industry from moving to the area, Atkinson said.
The open burning ban will keep ozone and particulate pollution levels down during the summer, Atkins said.
"All burns, all fires of any kind have to be permitted through your local Georgia Forestry Commission office," Atkinson said.
Chief Ranger Senior Steve Abbott, who heads the George Forestry Commission's Columbia County and Richmond County offices, said not all burning will be outlawed.
Bona fide agricultural burning, prescribed burning by foresters, training burns and small cooking fires will still be allowed.
Alternatives to burning yard debris include chipping, grinding or mulching the yard waste or taking it to an inert landfill such as Sample and Son Inc. on Columbia Road near Grovetown. The last resort, Abbott said, is to stockpile the debris until October, when the ban is lifted.
Abbott said his office will issue burn permits only for approved exceptions.
Residents burning illegally face stiff penalties during the ban.
Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Chief Doug Cooper said firefighters will explain the law to those burning illegally, then ask them to extinguish the fire. If the fire department responds a second time to the same residence, the forestry commission, which has the power to issue a citation, will be notified.
A citation for unlawful burning can bring with it up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the Magistrate Court of Columbia County.
Abbott said that if an unauthorized outdoor fire gets out of control and the fire department or forestry personnel are called in to assist, the homeowner could be liable for the costs of supplies and labor used to extinguish the fire.
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