By Jason A. Smith
State and local fire officials are urging area residents, who plan to burn yard debris in the coming weeks, to do so safely, and in accordance with the law.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division will lift its residential burning ban Oct. 1. The ban is enacted each year to comply with federal clean-air regulations, said Mike Sapp, the Georgia Forestry Commission's chief ranger for Henry, DeKalb, Newton and Rockdale counties.
Sapp said the ban, which also includes Clayton County and covers a total of 54 counties in the state, serves to protect residents from environmental hazards.
"In the summer, there are a lot of ozone problems," said Sapp. "The ban helps to reduce ozone levels and smog."
According to Sapp, when the burning ban is lifted, residents will be able to begin burning their yard debris as long as they do so in accordance with agency rules and local regulations.
He said residents are allowed to burn one pile of natural vegetation, 6 feet by 6 feet, per day. Natural vegetation includes limbs, leaves and yard clippings.
"We do not issue permits when it's extremely cloudy or raining, because smoke does not dissipate and can cause visibility problems," Sapp said.
He said residents should never leave a fire unattended, and asked residents to rake around their piles in order to create "a clear area of no debris" when burning.
"They also should have a water hose and shovel nearby in case it's needed," he said.
The Henry County Fire Department issued a statement Friday, outlining the consequences for those who do not adhere to state and county burning regulations. According to Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett, Henry residents who burn unlawfully will be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per day per violation, 60 days in jail, or both.
"The Henry County Fire Department strongly urges citizens to comply with this ordinance, and appreciates in advance all cooperation concerning this matter," Puckett said. "Although residential burning is permitted, there is a nuisance ordinance that could become a factor in any given area. Persons conducting burning will be expected to follow all rules of burning."
Puckett said the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Georgia is burning debris.
"Many of these wildfires could be prevented if everyone would follow the rules for outdoor burning and never leave their fire unattended," she said. "Debris burning is caused by humans, and humans can prevent wildfires by using safe practices when burning outdoor debris."
Residential burning permits can be obtained through the Georgia Forestry Commission through one of three methods, according to Sapp. Residents can visit the agency's web site, at www.gatrees.org, call the agency's automated phone system at 1-877-652-2876, or call the commission's office at (770) 784-2480.