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Web posted Sunday, October 09, 2011

Burn ban lifted, but drought conditions warrant caution


By Valerie Rowell - Twitter @ValerieRowell
Staff Writer

With the lifting of the statewide ban on outdoor burning, officials are asking residents to be careful.

Most of the state is still in a drought, making the risk of wildfires high, Georgia Forestry Commission Ranger I Brett Jensen said.

"It is dry and the humidity has been real low and we're below average rainfall," said Jensen, an acting chief of the forestry commission office serving Columbia and Richmond counties.

The five-month ban was lifted a week ago, and Jensen estimated that his office soon had issued more than 100 outdoor burning permits.

The permit allows residents to burn hand-piled vegetation and lawn debris, such as limbs, leaves and pine straw, until dark. It is illegal to burn machine-piled and man-made materials, including shingles, tires, plastic and household garbage.

Permits are available by calling 1 (877) OK-2-BURN (652-2876) or by visiting www.GaTrees.org.

Jensen said those burning need to have a shovel and hose handy to control the fire in case of emergency, and a phone handy to call 911 if the fire gets out of control.

"Be cautious and remember that (you) have to remain with the fire as long as it is burning," Jensen said. "A lot of folks let it burn down. It is still burning and they wander into the house and sometimes it gets loose."

A Winfield resident lost control of an unattended fire recently when it spread to burn six acres off Winfield Hill Road.

Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue spokesman Jeremy Wallen said the blaze is one of two recent wildfires started when residents lost control of burn piles.

Yard debris fires for which homeowners don't get permits are considered "unauthorized."

Wallen said during the ban from May 1 through Sept. 30, when no one should be burning yard debris, the fire department responded to 36 unauthorized fires.

Firefighters responded to 50 unauthorized fires in the most recent burning season between Oct. 1, 2010, and April 30.

"If you don't have a permit, if (the fire) wasn't authorized by a permit and it gets loose, (the homeowner) will be liable for suppression charges," Jensen said.

Even if the fire is permitted, if someone complains, firefighters will explain the burning laws and ask the homeowner to extinguish the fire. If they don't put it out, the forestry commission is contacted and the resident can face citations from the forestry commission and possibly Columbia County, Jensen said.

Jensen said residents should pay attention to weather conditions when planning to burn and avoid burning on windy or extremely dry days. If state drought conditions get too bad, the state Environmental Protection Division will issue a ban on all outdoor burning.

"We also go by weather conditions day-to-day and when it gets too windy, we won't issue," Jensen said.

Small cooking fires, such as campfires, are allowed. Anyone needing to do large or agriculture burns should contact the forestry commission.



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