Majority of wildfires come from debris burns getting out of control

Majority of wildfires come from debris burns getting out of control

24 August 2011

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USA — Of the 39 wildfires in Coweta County in fiscal year 2010, there were 21 resulting from debris burning that got out of control.

That’s typical, said Terry Quigley, chief ranger for the Coweta unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission.

“Debris burning is the number one cause. That is across every county, every state, always,” he said.

The rest of Coweta’s fires were caused by machine use, 7; “incendiary,” 4; children, 2; campfires, 2; the railroad, 2; and lightning, 1.

Most intentional burning, such as for land clearing and burning of leaves, is forbidden during the “burn ban” months of May through September. The burn ban will be lifted in Coweta on Oct. 1.

If a Coweta resident wants to do any open burning once the burn ban is lifted, they’ll need a permit.

There are only two types of open burning that are exempt from the permit regulations and the seasonal burn ban: recreational fires and cooking fires.

Building a fire in a barrel is not allowed, even to keep warm, according to Jimmy Johnston, program manager for the planning program at the air protection branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Burning of any type of garbage or manmade material — such as tires, shingles, and treated lumber — is strictly forbidden and illegal.

A permit, which is free and easy to obtain, is required for everything from a controlled burn of forest land to burning a few piles of leaves in your yard.

The burn ban is strictly about air quality and has nothing to do with conditions that can lead to wildfires. However, when conditions are exceptionally dry or there are very high winds, permits won’t be issued because of the fire danger.

Permits also won’t be issued on rainy or exceptionally overcast days, because, instead of rising and dissipating, “the smoke lies on the ground like a blanket,” Quigley said.

Burning is only allowed between 10 a.m. and one hour before dark.

If you don’t have a permit and things get out of hand, you’ll be paying for it.

If you don’t have a permit and the GFC crews have to come out and extinguish the fire, you’ll be charged their cost for putting out the fire.

“Always call and get one to protect yourself,” Quigley said of burn permits.

The costs for putting out a wildfire are charged at $90 per hour for equipment, plus personnel costs. Typically, the bill ranges from $300 to $400, Quigley said.

That doesn’t include any damages property owners may have to pay if the fire damages someone else’s property.

The state Environmental Protection Division puts some fairly strict regulations on what you can and can’t burn.

For the typical homeowner, the only thing you are allowed to burn is leaves that fall onto your property.

Burning of “vegetative debris” from storm damage — limbs that fall during a storm — is not allowed in Georgia counties with populations of more than 65,000, including Coweta. Occasionally, such as following the storms in May, that ban will be temporarily lifted.

One might save up those small limbs for a recreational fire, but be sure it’s really a recreational fire, not just debris burning masquerading as one.

Most types of open burning are more for large tracts of land — prescribed burning for forest management and agricultural burning.

Open burning for land clearing is allowed in some areas of the state, but in counties with populations of more than 65,000, such burning must take place in an “air curtain destructor” pit.

Also allowed in smaller counties, but not in Coweta, is burning for weed abatement, disease, and pest prevention.

For more information about burn permits, contact the Coweta unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission at 770-254-7217, call 1-877-OK2-Burn or visit

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