March 27, 2010


Burn ban in effect statewide

New state regulations prohibit brush fires from March 15 to May 15

BanJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Marathon firefighter Eric Cornell douses charred timbers damaged in a grass fire last year in April on McGraw Marathon Road in Freetown.

Staff Reporter

A statewide ban on burning brush is in effect from March 15 to May 15, and environmental officials want Cortland County residents to be aware that they could face misdemeanor charges and fines if they burn outside during this time.
Reggie Parker, state Department of Environmental Conservation regional air pollution control engineer, said Tuesday the department’s regulation that limits burning were enacted in October.
The law allows people in towns with a population of less than 20,000 to burn brush outdoors for 10 out of the 12 months of the year. Branches must be less than 6 inches in diameter and 8 feet in length.
But this brush cannot be burned outside from March to May since that is the time when most forest and brush fires occur, Parker said.
The department developed the law because of air pollution concerns and fire concerns.
“In the past, towns would burn trash and plastics. That was legal in small towns so the biggest reason (for the law) was air pollution concerns,” Parker said.
The law forbids burning plastics and trash and anything other than “clean wood,” Parker said. Burning of leaf piles was also banned.
“Under the old rule, towns with under 20,000 people could burn trash and anything, tires ... waste was all legal under the old rule,” Parker said.
Now people could be fined at least $375 and charged with a misdemeanor if they set such fires.
There are agricultural exceptions to the law.
Farms larger than 5 acres in size can burn organic material that is generated on the farm year-round.
Orchard cuttings, crops and brush can be burned but burning plastic fertilizer or feed bags is prohibited, Parker said.
Another exception is the setting of fires for training purposes, Parker said.
“Sometimes fire departments set fires on purpose to train on live fires or they burn a structure. That is allowed but there are restrictions on that now,” Parker said.
The fire must be at least 300 feet away from the closest structure, and all hazardous materials such as carpeting, paints and chemicals, must be removed from the building that is being burned.
“It has got to be stripped down to the wood as much as practical,” Parker said.
The old law did not have specific requirements beyond laws that prohibited the burning of asbestos, Parker said.
Parker said the burn ban does not extend to recreational fires such as campfires, which can be set year-round but must be less than 3 feet by 4 feet in size and attended at all times.
County Fire Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Duell said grass and brush fires are common in the spring and fall.
“The biggest thing we have a problem with is in the fall people burning leaves (and brush) and ... don’t pay attention to how windy or dry it is. People have got to use common sense but the bottom line is they cannot be burning anything between March 15 and May 15,” Duell said.
Duell stressed that leaves are no longer allowed to be burned at all unless they are attached to branches.
“No piles of leaves can be burned at any time of the year ... and (there is) no burning of trash in a burn barrel anymore,” Duell said.
City Fire Chief Chuck Glover said open burning in the city of Cortland is prohibited because of setback requirements for burning outside as well as the new ban. Open burning is anything that does not discharge smoke into a smokestack or chimney, Glover said.
“From time to time, we get phone calls from the public saying somebody is burning leaves or brush in their back yard and we go tell the property owners they have to put it out,” Glover said.
If people have questions about the fire regulations they can call the DEC at 518-897-1300.


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