Outdoor burn ban starts up

CONYERS - As the days become longer and the weather warms up, concern over air quality begins to heat up as well. Beginning Thursday, smog alerts will become a daily occurrence and outdoor burning will not be allowed until October.

For the next five months, the controlled or prescribed burning of leaves, tree limbs and forest land will have to wait. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources initiated the ban a few years ago due to concerns over air quality.

Rockdale County Fire Department Capt. Phil Norton said the burn ban has become routine over the years, however, new residents to the area may not be aware of the ban.

"We've had it for so long that many of our longtime residents understand and follow the burn ban," Norton said, "but we still want to get the word out for those who have recently moved here."

In short, the ban restricts all types of outdoor burning for the purpose of reducing pollution in the metro Atlanta area.

The ban covers the 13 counties that comprise the Atlanta Ozone Non-attainment Area - Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale - and 32 counties that surround this area, including Newton and Walton counties.

The burn ban runs concurrent with Atlanta's smog season. During this time of year, hot summer temperatures, stagnant wind and high humidity are more likely to drive concentrations of air pollution to unhealthy levels.

Enforcement of the ban is done by local jurisdictions, the Georgia Forestry Commission and the Environmental Protection Division. Norton said people found violating the burn ban can be punished under county ordinances with up to 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine or a combination of both.

Mike Sapp, acting chief ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission's office in Covington, said the burn ban may be in place to control smog, but it has another benefit in reducing the number of wild fires in Rockdale and Newton counties significantly during the driest time of the year. Sapp said half of all large fires are started by escaped debris from small outdoor fires.

In place of burning yard waste, Norton suggested residents haul their leaves, lawn clippings and limbs to the Rockdale County Recycling Center on Sigman Road.

In Newton County, residents can drop off yard waste at any of the 11 neighborhood recycling centers in the county.

Recycling centers in both counties will accept woody debris, including trees, branches and shrubs. Grass clippings, leaves and pine straw can also be dropped off at no charge.

The Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit group that encourages actions to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, seeks to bring public awareness of how air quality affects communities.

Also, Gov. Sonny Perdue proclaimed this week Air Quality Awareness Week in Georgia.

The Clean Air Campaign offers a toll free number, 1-87-RIDEFIND (1-877-433-3463), to help commuters find potential carpool partners. The group also offers a series of financial incentives for commuters through its Commuter Rewards Program for those who try and continue to use clean commute choices.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.