Q&A with Jeff Doles

May 8, 2013 

Q&A with Jeff Doles

City of Residence: Fort Valley

Occupation: Peach County Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director

QUESTION: Isn’t it fairly wet in Middle Georgia to be under a burn ban?

ANSWER: There’s a misconception that the burn ban we’re under is because of drought or dry weather. It’s not that. It has to do with air quality, and really it’s the air quality in Metro Atlanta. Metro Atlanta is under a year-round absolute burn ban, and in Peach and Houston counties we’re 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: What’s the difference?

ANSWER: With some exceptions, under a partial burn ban, burn permits are allowed. Under the absolute ban, they aren’t. 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 we’re 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 aren’t 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, you’re not permitted to now, and you have to have a permit other times of the year for any sort of burning, whether it’s 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. It’s hard to explain to people why a farmer can burn a couple hundred acres and then they can’t burn their little pile of leaves, but that’s the way it is. That’s the law. One is necessary to Georgia’s agricultural economy and the other isn’t.

QUESTION: During the year when burn permits are available, what can and can’t 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 there’s black smoke like would come from a tire, you can bet you’re 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, we’ll get underway, but during the process we’ll contact officials to see if there is a permit in that area. If so, we won’t 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 don’t 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: It’s 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 don’t 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.

There’s 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: We’re 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 don’t keep things in check. We have to do what we can to improve our air quality.

A lot of people we run into don’t understand that and don’t 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. Editor’s note: Answers may have been edited for clarity and length.

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