* Georgia law no longer requires notification to the Georgia Forestry Commission by people planning to burn yard debris. Charges may apply if wildfire results from escaped burning and evidence show reasonable fire prevention precautions were not taken.

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. 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. And we have been talking with other state’s forestry agencies about any information they may have uncovered.

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.

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.

Our sister forestry agency to the northeast, the SC Forestry Commission, this week implemented a statewide burn ban. We have discussed with them how they came to their decision. 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.

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.

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. That is our commitment to Georgia’s citizens and to her forest managers.

To obtain a permit for prescribed fire, contact your local county office.

6 thoughts on “GFC’s Stance on Burning during the COVID-19 Pandemic (4/9/2020)

  1. Guess what… smoke aggravates respiratory issues – making sensitive people like me with bronchitis or others with asthma or COPD more sensitive and potentially sending me to the hospital.

    How about laying off as much burning as possible for the time being?

    1. We certainly understand the concern, and we continue to be in discussions with air quality regulators and Governor Kemp’s office to ensure that air quality levels remain healthy. Earlier this week we advised prescribed burn practitioners to consider whether burns could wait a while. If someone near you is burning, please stay indoors with windows closed. We will provide updates if/when our discussions change. Stay safe and healthy!

  2. Please keep in mind thise rural counties that were told not to burn last year after hurricane Michael. Since we had been consistent with a 2 year alternate burn, we 2 and 3 year rough. We are actually almost caught up but need that late burn for a few areas and rain is in the forecast. A little advance notice would be great. Thanks for all you do. Had several excellent crews help open firebreaks after Michael.

  3. Don’t give in to those that dont understand! Fire is too valuable of a tool for us in the forestry buisness. As an essential industry we need all available means to insure the future of Georgia’s wood and forest products!

  4. I have a neighbor that has been burning for three days now. I have ask him to stop for a couple of days so my mother who is 85 can go out for fresh air and he will not. Please someone tell me what to do.

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