The ban on outdoor burning in Columbia County has been in effect for more than three months, and fire officials are reminding residents to follow the ban because outdoor fires can cause disastrous results.
On July 21, a mobile home inside the Columbia County Fire and Game Club at Thurmond Lake was damaged after flames from a neighbor's outdoor fire spread. The doublewide trailer, which wasn't a primary home, was a total loss, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue spokeswoman Honey Shore said.
The main purpose of the ban by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is to improve air quality and maintain compliance with federal clean air regulations, Georgia Forestry Commission Ranger 1 Brett Jensen said.
He said the ban also helps eliminate fire danger.
"When it gets dry like it was a couple of weeks ago, before we started getting this recent rain, grass was crunching under my feet," he said. "It doesn't take much to start a fire, and (with) somebody just burning a little bit in their yard, a spark could easily ignite."
The ban has been in effect since May 1 and will be lifted Sept. 30. It is enforced in 54 counties, including Richmond.
Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue firefighters responded to 46 cases of unauthorized burns from January to May, Shore said. During the 2008 burn ban, 61 cases were reported.
The fire department usually receives a call from a neighbor about burning outdoors, Shore said.
"When they locate the fire, if the fire is attended, they will ask the person to put out the fire and explain that the burn ban is still in effect," she said. "If they need any kind of assistance putting out the fire, we'll assist them in any way necessary."
If a resident refuses to extinguish the fire or continuously ignores the ban, Shore said, the forestry commission office is contacted.
"They can actually make a citation to the person who is flagrantly ignoring the ban," she said.
Jensen said his office has issued five citations so far this year, after nine in 2008.
"A lot of people just like to keep their yards immaculate, and they think the only way to get rid of the trash is to burn it, but there's other ways to get rid of it, too," Jensen said.
Instead of burning yard debris, he suggests hauling off the waste or using it as mulch.
If a citation is issued, the homeowner is charged with the forestry unit's cost of response, which includes equipment and manpower expense, Jensen said.
Repeat offenders are handled by the county's code compliance department, he said.
Residents can begin applying for burn permits when the ban ends Sept. 30, but several regulations will still apply.
To apply for a permit after Sept. 30, visit www.gatrees.org, call the forestry commission at (877) 652-2876 or call the Appling office at (706) 556-3962.
"Burn permit or no burn permit, you can run into a big problem, so people have to use extreme caution even when they do burn with a permit," Shore said.
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