CONYERS - As the days become longer and the weather warms up, concern over air quality begins to heat up as well. Beginning Friday, 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 Environmental Protection Division initiated the ban in 1996 to comply with federal air quality standards.
Mike Sapp, chief ranger with the Georgia Forestry Commission's office in Covington, said this weekend will be the busiest for his office as residents clear off yard brush before the ban takes effect.
"It will be a pretty weekend, and we had some storm damage recently so there will be people wanting to get out and clear out their yards," Sapp said. "We had a little bit of rain, so that should help hold wild fires down."
Rockdale County Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Lee 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 long-time residents understand and follow the burn ban," Lee said, "but we still want to get the word out for those who have recently moved here."
In Newton County, Deputy Chief Tim Smith said the ban does significantly reduce the number of wildfire calls his department has received, and he believed the same will hold true this year.
"We have 20 more calls than last year, and what we've seen is that people think that with more rain that we've had they are leaving fires unattended more often," Smith said.
The burn ban runs through Oct. 1 and restricts all types of outdoor burning for the purpose of reducing pollution in the metro Atlanta area.
Enforcement of the ban is done by local jurisdictions, the Georgia Forestry Commission and the EPD. Violation of the burn ban can be punished under county ordinances. If found guilty, state law allows a penalty to be up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or a combination of both.
Fire officials in Rockdale and Newton counties said they attempt to educate violators of the ban with a warning. However, repeated calls will result in a citation.
Smith said Newton County firefighters issue a warning first. A second call will result in a $700 fine.
The ban covers the 19 counties that comprise the Atlanta Ozone Non-attainment Area - Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale - and 33 counties that surround this area, including Newton and Walton counties.
In place of burning yard waste, Sapp 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 tree branches and shrubs. Grass clippings, leaves and pine straw can also be dropped off at no charge.
For more information, call 1-877-OK2-BURN (1-877-652-2876) or go to www.gatrees.gov.
Jay Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.