Under standard EPA and GFC regulations, recreational (grilling, campfires, etc) are allowed, yard debris fires require permits.
On April 6, South Carolina instituted a statewide partial burn ban due to the impacts fires may have on COVID-19 patients.
“As part of the ban, yard debris burns or burn barrels, prescribed or controlled burns, in addition to campfires and bonfires will be prohibited, according to the Forestry Commission.
“This does not prohibit outdoor cooking, or fires for warmth (from a chimney) if that is the only source of heat. You can still cook on a grill.”
Following that ban, ConnectLocal contacted the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EDP) and the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) to ask if there were any plans in Georgia to institute similar bans.
Since COVID-19 hit the scene in Georgia, GFC has been researching whether smoke from all permitted sources, including prescribed fire, has a defined impact on COVID-19 transmission, complications or severity, GFC Director, Chuck Williams told ConnectLocal. “We have been in ongoing communication on this issue with Georgia’s air quality regulators, the Environmental Protection Division of DNR, and with Governor Kemp’s office. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of science on this subject. Georgia’s air quality indices that we and EPD monitor have remained within norms. Yet, we have continued to seek definitive answers that would enable us to make an informed decision on continued burn permitting. Thus far, those definitive answers remain elusive.”
Williams said that he had been in contact with the SC Forestry Commission and spoke with the about their decision to implement a burn ban.
“We have studied their rationale and we have benefited from their thought process and openness with us. But their state-level decision and Georgia’s decision must be made independently, hopefully based on consistent and uniform science and concern for public health,” he said. “So, as of this moment, GFC is following our established criteria for burn permitting. These criteria already strongly consider smoke impacts on human populations and on safety. And we are continuing our search for additional information that might help Georgia deal with COVID-19 on all fronts.”
Williams said GFC would continue to monitor the situation and implement any changes necessary if the impact of fires – either GFC-permitted fires, or GFC prescribed fires, proved to have a negative impact on the COVID-19 response.
“Beyond any direct links between forestry smoke and COVID-19, we are also very aware of potential indirect impacts, such as smoke impacts on medical facilities; smoke impacts on individuals with preexisting medical conditions; and the statewide need to minimize any trigger event that would cause citizens to seek medical care for non-COVID-19 issues,” he said.
In addition to GFC’s management of burn permits requested by citizens, the impact of prescribed burns is also being taken into account in the consideration of any potential ban.
“Prescribed fire is a valuable forestry management tool; we are grateful for the support it receives from Georgia’s citizens and policymakers. That being said, prescribed fire remains an often-misunderstood and sometimes-feared tool that must be carefully managed. This is why we continue to search for informed rationale for any decisions we might make on the application of this tool, concurrent with a pandemic emergency of unprecedented severity in modern times,” he added.
Likewise, the Georgia EPD has not instituted any COVID-19-related bans or restrictions.
“Georgia EPD is aware that some local authorities have enacted additional open burning restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 response; however, Georgia EPD has not implemented any statewide restrictions,” Georgia EPD Director of Communications Kevin Chambers told ConnectLocal.
Burning/Outdoor fire regulations: Stephens County
Recreational fires, including campfires, warming fires and cooking fires, do not require permits.
Small, hand-piled yard debris can be burned, but Georgians must get a permit before doing these types of burns.
If individuals are burning yard debris in a burn barrel, a permit IS required.
If conditions are safe for burning on any given day and permits are being issued, individuals may obtain a burn permit quickly and easily.
GEORGIA FORESTRY COMMISSION
“Georgia EPD has Rules that determine what types of open burning are permitted. Georgia Forestry Commission is aware of these Rules and issues burn permits in accordance with these Rules and other local ordinances, which may be more restrictive,” Williams said.
Burning branches and leaves that fall on the resident’s premises is allowed. Guidance that EPD’s open burning team developed is that the branches should be no more than 3 inches in diameter.
Burn barrels are not specifically prohibited for vegetative debris, but are generally discouraged
*Household waste, tires, lumber, etc. are not allowed to be burned at all, not even in burn barrels.
Bonfires, barbecue pits/fires for cooking Smores, hotdogs, etc., and campfires are all considered to be recreational and are allowed.
Stephens County is not subject to the Summer burn ban. From May 1 – Sept. 30, certain open burning activities are prohibited in 54 of Georgia’s counties. Prescribed burns are prohibited during the summer season in 19 counties. Stephens County is not included in either of those categories, and falls under no seasonal fire restrictions.
More information is available on Georgia EPD’s Open Burning web page.