By Jason A. Smith
Fire officials in Georgia are spreading the word to residents, they have a few more days before burning restrictions are reinstated for the summer.
The Georgia Forestry Commission says the state's burning season will end April 30.
Beginning in May, and ending in September, residents who wish to burn yard debris, or forest land, must obtain a permit before doing so.
Burning restrictions in Georgia are set forth by the state's Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources, and enforced by state forestry officials.
According to Jenny Lynn Bruner, the forestry commission's chief ranger for Henry, Butts and Clayton counties, weather conditions in Georgia, in recent years, make strict enforcement of burning guidelines a necessity.
"With the heat we have in the summer, it generates more smog and pollutants in the air when you burn," Bruner explained. "Therefore, prescribed burning is an area where the EPD feels we can cut down during the summer months to improve air quality."
Bruner said Georgia's lack of precipitation last summer, while the state was in the throes of a Level IV drought, placed tighter restrictions on residents' burning abilities, and created a "crazy burn season."
"We had regulations where, in order to burn, the wind speed had to be less than 12 miles per hour, and the relative humidity had to be higher than 30 percent," the chief ranger noted.
Although increased rainfall totals in the Georgia over the last few months have improved the state's drought designation to Level III, Bruner said many residents have still been unable to conduct many of their desired burns.
"We won't issue burn permits when the cloud cover is too low, because it holds the smoke too close to the ground, she said.
Despite the efforts of the commission to notify residents of the burning restrictions each year, Bruner said some people still fail to take note of the April 30 deadline.
In those cases, the commission charges a fine, the amount of which is determined by the distance forestry officials must travel to respond to the fire, and how much equipment is needed to extinguish it.
In addition to emphasizing burning restrictions, efforts have begun at the state level to conserve water usage during Georgia's drought.
State Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine recently extended an emergency directive regarding testing of fire suppression systems. The 120-day extension, which began March 31, gives fire officials the freedom to delay or suspend testing and maintenance of fire protection systems, such as fire hydrants and sprinkler systems.
In a statement Wednesday, Oxendine noted the need to be mindful of weather conditions in Georgia.
"We've had some rainfall this year and conditions have improved in some areas, but our state is still in a severe drought," Oxendine said. "While maintaining a high standard of fire safety is still important, I believe we can do so in a way that will conserve water."
The burn permits issued in Georgia are for natural vegetation only.
The forestry commission operates an automated burn-permit system, for residents who wish to burn piles of yard debris measuring six-feet by six- feet.
The phone number for the permit system is (1-877) 652-2876. Those permits may also be obtained online, at www.gatrees.org.
Henry County residents who plan to burn larger piles, forest land or fields with acreage are asked to call the forestry commission's county unit office, at (770) 954-2003.
Residents who live inside the city limits of McDonough must the City of McDonough Fire Department, to obtain a burn permit after April 30. For more information, visit the EPD's Web site, at www.gaepd.org.