We’re a little over two weeks into the annual summer burn ban, which prohibits burning yard and land-clearing debris in 52 Georgia counties including Pickens. We spoke to Jasper’s fire chief to get more insight into the annal restriction that’s now been in effect nearly 20 years.
The Summer Open Burn Ban began May 1 and runs through September 31. It prohibits all yard and land-clearing burns. This means residents are prohibited from burning leaves, yard waste, tree limbs, burning grass or burning for land clearing, weed clearing, and a few other less common burns during that time.
“People are allowed to have a cooking fire or a fire for heat, as well as recreational fires so campfires are allowed,” said Jasper Fire Chief John Sherrer — but outside of those, fires are off limits barring a few special exemptions like permitted firefighter training or forestry prescribed burning.
Grilling and barbecuing are allowed under recreational use, too.
“The burn ban is actually imposed by the Georgia Forestry Commission and they are responsible for enforcement, but if we get a call we will respond and extinguish the fire and if we feel it’s necessary, contact the commission.”
Sherrer said if there is a report or complaint made and the department is called to a residence they start with education.
“Some people aren’t aware of the burn ban,” he said. “So we do education first, let them know the rules before getting in touch with the Forestry Commission.”
According to Sherrer, more often than not on illegal burn calls residents are not aware of the summer burning ban rules, “But sometimes it’s obvious the residents know they are conducting an illegal burn.”
If there are repeat burn offenders the chief said they will contact Georgia Forestry, “And we’ll say, hey, we have an issue with an illegal burn.”
At that point the state agency can investigate and issue a citation and impose fines.
“It doesn’t happen often, but we have had to contact them,” he said.
In fact, the local department receives fewer calls reporting illegal burns or complaints of smoke in an area during the ban than they do in other months. That’s because so many people are aware of burn ban restrictions and follow the rules by not burning leaves or debris, Sherrer said.
The chief urged residents to take special precaution with coals from barbecue pits during the summer.
“They can stay hot for several hours,” he said. “Make sure they are completely cool before dumping those. If you put hot coals in a trashcan, the can catch on fire, and if the can is near the house the house can catch on fire.”
The burn ban is in place during the summer ozone season, when smoke from burning can negatively impact air quality.
According to James Boylan, chief of the EPD Air Protection Branch, “Small particles are released into the atmosphere during open burning. In addition, other air pollutants are released that can form ground-level ozone in the summertime. Particulate pollution can cause chronic heart diseases and ground-level ozone can cause inflammation of the lungs, especially in children and people with asthma.”
But Sherrer said the restriction is “two-fold,” also in place when humidity is low and fuels for fire are dry.
“Humidity is below 25 percent, and leaves and fuels for fire are much drier,” he said. “It’s easier for fires to get out of control.”
He noted that outside of Summer Open Burn Ban restrictions there are year-round rules people must adhere to when conducting a burn.
“People don’t realize burns have to be out by dusk, that [yard or land-clearing burns] have to be 50 feet from a structure, and that they can never burn anything processed or manmade. All that’s legal to burn is natural vegetation.”
Recreational fires must be 25 feet away from structures.
It’s never legal to burn things like tires, plastics, household garbage and even lumber. Only natural “clean wood” that has not been pressure treated, painted, varnished, and does not contain resins or glues (including plywood) can be burned.
Other year-round rules include: No burning in barrels; yard-waste fires must be extinguished an hour before sunset; the site must be attended, and others.
Sherrer said yard, land and debris-clearing fires must be out by dusk because the atmosphere changes and causes the smoke to settle.
Bonfires are allowed year-round, but they must be permitted.
Citizens can access more information on the open burning ban by visiting https://epd.georgia.gov/air-protection-branch/open-burning-rules-georgia, or by calling the EPD District Office serving their area. For Pickens County, that is the Mountain District Office (Cartersville): 770-387-4900.