Burning season starts Thursday

By MARTIN BROOKS mbrooks@newnan.com Coweta County residents -- and people throughout Georgia -- will be able to burn outdoors again starting Thursday. Coweta is among counties under an outdoor burning ban that runs each year from May 1-Sept. 30. Hopeful burners still need a burning permit, which will be attainable three different ways:
* by calling 1-800-GA-TREES (1-800-428-7337) * by calling 1-877-OK-2-BURN (1-877-652-2876) * or by visiting gatrees.org . If one wants to do a large acreage burn, he should call the Coweta County office of the Georgia Forestry Commission at 770-254-7371. Coweta's Chief Ranger Terry Quigley said from his office this week that warming and cooking fires are allowed year-round without the need of a permit. Those fires must be small and must be used for cooking or as part of an outdoor activity such as camping. The Newnan office of the state forestry agency issues about 200 permits on opening day of the burning season, then about 30 every weekday and 200 on the weekends, averaging 14,500 permits per season. Georgia averages 800 wild fires a year, burning 40,000 acres, Quigley said. "Limb-burners," as he called them, account for 51 percent of all wildfires in Georgia, according to state statistics. Quigley reckons the number could be higher. Quigley offered advice for people who live near a wooded tract. Clean and rake the property, especially around the house. Cleaning the yard before burning will usually eliminate the ability for the fire to spread to one's home. Fire must follow a path, he said, and breaking the path of combustible material can save a house from destruction. He also suggested before one burns limbs or leaves to make an area for burning and always keep a rake and water hose handy, as these will prevent the spreading of fire in many cases. The Georgia Forestry Commission will not issue permits on overcast or rainy days. Quigley offered the analogy of a blanket over a fire. The clouds "insulate" the smoke, keeping it close to the ground and causing problems for people with asthma or other conditions that can make breathing difficult. Quigley recalled a time when forestry departments around Atlanta issued many permits on an overcast day, which resulted with Atlanta being pummeled by smoke. Complaints from the city led to new policies about when permits would be allowed. Quigley also said high winds coupled with low humidity could result in him issuing no permits for that day, but it is rare for that to happen. If one's fire gets out of control while burning without a permit, the individual will be issued a notice of violation -- along with the bill for putting the fire out. The bill can run in the hundreds of dollars. GFC rangers do not drive around looking for people burning without a permit. Neighbors have to tattle -- which happens quite often, he said. Being caught and cited three times, however, will land the offender on the No-Permit list. The person's name is entered in the forestry organization's statewide database -- meaning a habitual offender could not get a burn permit anywhere in the state. Quigley explained the reason for the burn ban being from May through September. He said most people assume it is because it is so hot, and things become dried out. That's not the case, though. May 1-Sept. 30th is smog season, and the burn ban prevents people from making things smoggier. Quigley also talked about Cowetans who may still have "Permanent Permits" -- allowing them to burn at anytime without contacting forestry officials. Quigley said he wants people to know that the permits are not permanent -- and, in fact, are not anymore. All the old Permanent Permits for burning have been void for several years.


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