Important laws for outdoor fires

  • Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:06 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 7:39 a.m.

 
 
The South Carolina Forestry Commission wants to remind residents of some the outdoor burning laws.

Fact Box

Some cities have regulations within their ordinances for outdoor burning.

Much of the City of Aiken’s fire ordinance is based on the 2006 edition of the International Fire Code (Section 307.)

For example, it states, “A permit shall be obtained from the fire code official in accordance with Section 105.6 prior to kindling a fire for recognized silvicultural or range or wildlife management practices, prevention or control of disease or pests, or a bonfire. Application for such approval shall only be presented by and permits issued to the owner of the land upon which the fire is to be kindled.”

Aiken Public Safety Lt. Karl Odenthal said that if someone breaks the city’s code when it comes to burning outdoors, they typically do not get cited but repeat offenders do.

“We try to work with people because a lot of them just don’t know,” Odenthal said.

The City of North Augusta’s ordinance, which dates back to 1972, states that no bonfires or burning of “outdoor rubbish” can occur without first obtaining a written permit from the Public Safety Director and such permits are authorized if there is proof of a “special need.”

S.C. Forestry Commission’s Andy Johnson noticed some confusion of those laws mentioned in Aiken Standard’s TalkBack and wanted to offer some clarity.

Johnson said these laws pertain only to nonincorporated areas. Cities across South Carolina follow those laws, too, but may have certain restrictions listed in their ordinances.

South Carolina residents are allowed to burn outdoors every day of the year unless a ban is in place, according to Johnson.

One of the most violated burn laws is regarding notification and precautions. Johnson said before anyone conducts a burn on their property, they must notify the S.C. Forestry Commission as well as have equipment to suppress a fire if it unexpectedly spreads.

Another law that is often violated is leaving a fire unattended.

“It’s a big issue every year,” Johnson said, adding, “Using good common sense goes a long way.”

Negligence of outdoor fires can lead to brush fires or can spread to another property – nine out of 10 brush or forest fires in Aiken County occur from unattended outdoor burns, Johnson said.

“It is unlawful for your fire to leave your property,” Johnson said. “This means if your fire escapes from your property, you are responsible for all damages.”

Johnson said a good indicator that it’s OK to step away from a burn area is if the ashes are not too hot to touch.

Johnson said that it’s also not permissible to burn household garbage.

“Not only is it harmful to you and your neighbors by emitting harmful toxins in the atmosphere, it stinks,” Johnson said.

The only things a resident can legally burn in South Carolina are organic debris and that does not include plywood, boards or other building materials. Organic materials would include tree limbs, straw, leaves and grass. Johnson said if it grows on your property, you can burn it.

Breaking these laws can lead to some hefty fines.

Johnson said outdoor burning can be beneficial when cleaning up a yard and keeps yard debris from loading up landfills.

Prescribed burns are also conducted by various organizations that are certified and follow U.S. Forest Service and S.C. Forestry Commission guidelines. Prescribed burns are done to reduce fire hazards by removing pine needles, leaves, brush and fallen trees, and for habitat management. It also helps some native species flourish as the fire breaks down organic matter in the soil nutrients which is later carried into the ground by precipitation.

“Back before there was an Aiken or even a South Carolina, the American Indians managed the earth through fire,” Johnson said.

If you are planning to conduct an outdoor burn, call the S.C. Forestry Commission office in Aiken County at (800) 895-7057. For more information, visit www.state.sc.us/forest/laws.htm for more information.

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