Newton, Covington, Rockdale fire departments issue warnings on spring safety

COVINGTON -- As temperatures have risen, many have turned their attention to the outdoors and the work their yard will need to get ready for summer.

The Newton County Fire Service, Rockdale Fire and Rescue and the Covington Fire Department have warnings and tips that may keep citizens out of harm's way as they begin outside chores.

NCFS Fire Safety Educator Cydnie Taylor-Ridling said their department has seen an increase in brush and grass fires, especially since the burn ban lapsed at the end of September, and most of it has been due to improper outdoor burning.

"The best rule of thumb is to make the person who lights the fire to always be responsible for the fire," she said. "Also, going through the proper channels BEFORE you burn is vital as Georgia Forestry monitors humidity, wind speed, as well as many other factors before issuing burn permits."

A burn permit is mandatory before any outside burning and Newton County residents should call Georgia Forestry at 770-652-2876 or go to their web site at gatrees.org before any burning takes place.

Likewise a burn permit is mandatory in Rockdale County and RCFR Lt. Chris Kozikowski said residents should also go to gatrees.org and choose the burn permit link or call 1-877-OK2BURN.

CFD Fire Education Specialist Randy Ross said city of Covington residents should call 770-385-2100 before burning and go by the Pace Street fire station office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to pick up a permit. They can also go to the back door of the fire station after hours.

"They can't burn any building materials -- natural vegetation only," he said. "And the fire must be out before dark."

Kozikowski said Rockdale's burn regulations require that when leaves, limbs and/or brush is burned, it must be on the property which it grew. No burning of furniture, construction debris or trash is allowed. The burn pile must be no larger than 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet. The fire should be at least 50 feet from the closest structure and burning should take place after 10 a.m. and be extinguished 30 minutes before dark.

"We ask that the fire is attended by a responsible individual who has a reliable water supply on hand. They should stay with the fire and not go inside and look out the window a couple of times ... they should have a garden hose turned on," he said.

Kozikowski said the biggest cause of burning getting out of hand is failure to follow these regulations.

"I'd say the biggest cause of fire getting out of control is due to it being unattended or not actually checking to get a burn permit because there are humidity and wind factors that people don't consider; whereas, the Georgia Forestry does when they issue a permit," he said.

Taylor-Ridling gave the following precautions that should be heeded when burning brush or debris:

-- Check for local burn bans or restrictions before conducting any open burning;

-- Keep fire a minimum of 75 feet from all buildings (50 feet in Rockdale County);

-- Never use gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid to start the fire;

-- Do not leave a fire unattended;

-- Have fire extinguishment materials on hand, including a water supply, shovels and rakes;

-- Be prepared to extinguish your fire if the wind picks up;

-- Do not delay a call for help - Call the fire department immediately at the first sign of the fire getting out of control.

The 2013 Burn Ban for affected Georgia counties, including Newton and Rockdale counties, will go into effect May 1.

According to the Georgia Environmental Protection Department, the outdoor burn ban is necessary in order to comply with the Federal Clean Air Regulations. During the summer months in Georgia, the ozone in the air we breathe can reach unhealthy levels and the Georgia EPD has identified open burning as a significant contributor of the pollutants that form ozone. Consequently, open burning in metro Atlanta and larger counties must be restricted during the summer months.

Also, Ross has issued some tips on accident prevention when using lawn and garden tools:

-- Inspect power tools for frayed power cords and cracked or broken casings. If necessary, have items repaired by a qualified technician or replace it;

-- Refresh your memory by reading instructions for lawn mowers and be sure to know how to stop it in case of emergency;

-- Store gas for gasoline powered equipment in a UL Classified safety can. Do not use milk jugs or unapproved containers;

-- Always start mowers outdoors. Never operate it where carbon monoxide can collect such as in a closed garage, storage shed or basement;

-- Never use power tools in the rain and store them away from water sources;

-- Always be sure to choose the right ladder for the job you intend doing. Read instructions which give the ladder weight and height limits. Remember the 4-to-1 rule. For every 4 feet of height, the bottom of the ladder should be 1 foot away from the wall or object it is leaning against. Use a fiberglass ladder if working near electricity or overhead power lines.