Q&A with Jeff Doles
City of Residence: Fort Valley
Occupation: Peach County Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director
QUESTION: Isnt it fairly wet in Middle Georgia to be under a burn ban?
ANSWER: Theres a misconception that the burn ban were under is because of drought or dry weather. Its not that. It has to do with air quality, and really its the air quality in Metro Atlanta. Metro Atlanta is under a year-round absolute burn ban, and in Peach and Houston counties were at the bottom of a ring of counties that have a partial burn ban part of the year and an absolute ban the rest of the year.
QUESTION: Whats the difference?
ANSWER: With some exceptions, under a partial burn ban, burn permits are allowed. Under the absolute ban, they arent. But there too, there are exceptions. Atlanta is always under a year-round absolute ban.
QUESTION: How does that divide up during the year for us? Where do we stand now?
ANSWER: From May 1 to Sept. 30 were under an absolute ban when burn permits are not issued. In the other months, burning is permitted with a permit. So right now, we are under an absolute burn ban, and permits arent issued.
QUESTION: So for normal residents, people in city neighborhoods or who live out in the county, what does that mean? Can I burn a little pile of leaves under the absolute ban or without a permit at other times?
ANSWER: No, youre not permitted to now, and you have to have a permit other times of the year for any sort of burning, whether its a pile of leaves in a ditch or in a can or to burn any other vegetation or rubbish. During the May 1 to Sept. 30 period, permits are not issued due to the air quality issues and higher ozone levels in the summer months that can reach unsafe levels.
QUESTION: You mentioned exceptions, what are the exceptions?
ANSWER: The only exemptions are burning for agricultural and forest land management and for some construction burning. Construction burning requires a special procedure and is only for vegetative items, not scrap lumber, anything asbestos or manufactured.
Outdoor cooking, barbecuing and campfires done safely are also exempt. You can do that. Its hard to explain to people why a farmer can burn a couple hundred acres and then they cant burn their little pile of leaves, but thats the way it is. Thats the law. One is necessary to Georgias agricultural economy and the other isnt.
QUESTION: During the year when burn permits are available, what can and cant be burned?
ANSWER: Only natural, vegetative compounds. No treated or untreated lumber or manufactured items. No furniture of any kind, tires, rubber, tar, PVC, or any products like that; just natural items. That applies to everyone, residential and commercial, at all times. When theres black smoke like would come from a tire, you can bet youre going to get someone coming to see you.
QUESTION: What about burning during the allowable time of year for people with permits?
ANSWER: If we get a call, well get underway, but during the process well contact officials to see if there is a permit in that area. If so, we wont likely respond to it as an emergency but will still come check it out.
QUESTION: If there is no permit, what do you do?
ANSWER: We have the authority to put it out. We dont write tickets or take legal action, other agencies handle that.
QUESTION: During the season permits are allowed, who gives the permits? How do you get one?
ANSWER: Its handled by the Georgia Forestry Commission. You can call 1-877-OK2BURN (877-652-2876) or go to the online system at www.gfc.state.ga.us/online-permits. They dont give permits more than 20 hours in advance, and permits are based on weather and other conditions. They also encourage fires be out by nightfall.
Theres a misconception that all this was created by the Forestry Commission, but they were just tasked with policing and issuing permits. It comes from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Air Protection Branch and from federal agencies and the EPA.
QUESTION: There are local air issues, but you say most of this is in response to Metro Atlanta air quality?
ANSWER: Were no Atlanta, but in Central Georgia with Macon, Warner Robins and Interstate 75 and the concentration of population, vehicles and manufacturing, we have to be concerned. We have to be concerned about the air quality as it relates to the status and future of Robins Air Force Base. We may not be on the radar for federal regulations yet, but we could be if we dont keep things in check. We have to do what we can to improve our air quality.
A lot of people we run into dont understand that and dont care. They just want to burn their little pile of leaves, and we realize it can be an inconvenience. But there are other things you can do to get rid of leaves. Compost them or do a little research and get them to a school or group that may be composting. You could even help someone out that way.
Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Editors note: Answers may have been edited for clarity and length.