By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Ban on burning could be lifted
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News

Fall may not pass without the smell of burning leaves this year.

The Georgia Forestry Commission has recommended lifing outdoor burning restrictions on Wednesday.

Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers said the local department may issue burn bans on a daily basis, as needed.

Shivers said daily permits are required from the forestry commission for burning small leaf or brush piles that are 6 feet by 6 feet by 2 feet or smaller.

"If we have called a red flag day, they'll know about it and they will not issue a state permit," he said.

A red flag day means weather conditions are not safe for burning.

"It's very possible that (today) might be a no burn day," he said. "If the humidity is less than 25 percent, or winds are gusting for some reason that day, then they'll call a no burn day."

By now, most people in the greater Atlanta area know that they can't burn yard debris in the summer, but many of them mistakenly believe it's because of the drought.

In fact, the restrictions are part of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's program to improve air quality during the summer ozone season.

The policy started with Atlanta's original 13-county nonattainment area for ozone, which included Forsyth County. That wasn't enough to curb air pollution, so the area was expanded to 45 counties.

Now, several other Georgia cities, including Macon and Columbus, are classified as nonattainment for ozone. So the ban now applies to a total of 54 Georgia counties, and is in effect from May 1 through Sept. 30.

Susan Zimmer-Dauphinee, manager of the EPD's ambient monitoring program, said she doesn't foresee a statewide ban anytime soon.

"It's kind of a compromise rule, because there is a need to do some burns (such as for agriculture and forestry purposes)," she said. "But the burn ban helps us to demonstrate to the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) that we are taking steps to meet air quality requirements."

This was the first year that Atlanta had to adhere to a stricter ozone standard. Officials thought this would result in more "ozone exceedance" days, but that didn't happen.

"We've had 26 days so far this year that exceeded the (new) standard of 76 parts per billion," Zimmer-Dauphinee said. "Under the old standard of 85 parts per billion last year, we had 27 violations."

Several factors may have contributed to the relatively low number of exceedances this year, despite the tighter standard.

This summer was cooler than usual, which reduces the likelihood of ozone formation. Also, there may have been less pollution from cars, because high gas prices kept some people off the roads.

"After the ozone season ends, we'll start to do a lot of statistical analysis and look at the meteorological conditions," Zimmer-Dauphinee said. "It takes about a year to complete the study."

But in Atlanta's outlying counties, no one cares much about that. They're just happy they can get rid of their yard waste without having to haul it to an inert landfill.

Still, Shivers encouraged other methods for getting rid of debris.

"Composting is a great way to discard, especially smaller debris, grass and leaves, small limbs and twigs, it's a great alternative," he said.

"That's the best option for homeowners, especially if you have a way to shred it and grind it...we prefer composting or using it to fill in areas in your landscaping."

Larger burns, such as those for clearing land or right-of-way construction, are handled through the fire department and the permits are valid for 30 days.

Such fires also require an air curtain destructor, a machine used for clearing natural debris, Shivers said.

Authorities caution people who obtain permits to be aware of all the rules. Fires must be attended at all times, and must be extinguished at night or when wind velocity is too high.

And the only materials that may be burned are leaves, twigs and grass.

Contractors can burn trees that have been cut down during construction, but only if they get a land-clearing permit.

It is illegal to burn any form of garbage or construction debris, such as drywall and roofing shingles, anywhere in Georgia.