Open Burning Accounts for Most Air-Quality Violations
Illegal outdoor burning is the most frequent air quality violation in North Carolina.
North Carolina's open burning rule is one of its oldest air quality regulations, dating back to the early 1970s.
The rule sets strict limits on outdoor fires and prohibits the burning of any man-made materials, because smoke pollutes the air and can be unhealthy to breathe.
Many residents might be unaware of the limits on open burning or ignore them. That could be an expensive mistake. The N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) can fine violators up to $10,000 or more for illegal outdoor burning.
In fact, open burning violations are the DAQ's biggest enforcement problem. Open-burning cases account for about two-thirds of all air quality complaints, half of all violation notices, and one-third of all enforcement actions. Investig-ating and enforcing such cases cost the division an estimated $154,248 in 2000 alone.
North Carolina law prohibits most open burning because the smoke from outdoor fires can cause serious health problems and pollute the air. For example, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that backyard burning of trash is the largest source of highly toxic dioxin emissions. Under the open-burning rule, it is illegal to burn:
n Garbage, paper and cardboard
n Tires and other rubber products
n Building materials, including lumber
n Wire, plastics and other synthetic materials
n Asphalt shingles and heavy oils
n Paints, and household and agricultural chemicals
n Building and other structures.
n Anything on days when the air quality forecast is Code Red or Orange.
Forecasts can be obtained by calling toll-free (888) 784-6224 or visiting the DAQ Web site at www.ncair.org.
Homeowners can burn yard trimmings -- excluding stumps and logs more than six inches in diameter -- if it's allowed under local ordinances, no public pickup is available and it doesn't cause a public nuisance. Other allowable burning includes campfires, outdoor barbecues, and bonfires for festive occasions.
Businesses generally are not allowed to burn waste materials. However, they may be allowed to burn vegetation to clear land or clean up storm debris, but they should check first with the local Fire Department or the Division of Air Quality.
Residents seeking to burn also may need permits from the local Fire Department and the state Division of Forest Resources.
A free brochure describing what is allowed and prohibited under the state open burning rule can be obtained by calling (919) 733-3340; writing to the Division of Air Quality at 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641; or checking the DAQ Web site at www.ncair.org.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources enforces the requirements for open burning. The Southern Pines Fire Department will enforce the requirements set by the N.C. Fire Prevention Code and Southern Pines Code of Ordinance and notify the N.C. Division of Air Quality of any open burning not meeting the requirements.
If residents are unsure if open burning is allowed in their area, they should contact the Southern Pines Fire Department. The department must issue a burning permit for any open burning to be legal.
The Southern Pines Fire Department is responsible for enforcing these guidelines within the town limits, as well as the Southern Pines Fire District.
If open burning is allowed, a member of the department is required to check the location of the burn and the materials to be burned, along with the means to extinguish the fire on site and a way to contact 911 if an emergency arises.
These requirements must be met prior to a burning permit being issued. Once the permit is issued, the resident is asked to contact the department prior to lighting the open burn to allow the on-duty officer to keep track of all fires in the area. This will also reduce the number of investigation calls the department might receive.
After the permit has expired, the person should contact the department before conducting the next open burn.
The Southern Pines Fire Department, N.C. Division of Forestry, and the N.C. Division of Air Quality all have fines in place for illegal open burning. If an open burn is being conducted without a permit or materials that are illegal are being burned, the individual conducting the burn will be subject to any fines or costs pertaining to the incident.
If anyone has questions pertaining to open burning, contact the Southern Pines Fire Department at 692-2720 or the N.C. Division Air Quality Fayetteville Regional Office at (910) 433-3300.
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