By Frank Sorrells, GFC Chief of Protection.
Over the years, the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) Protection team has responded to tens of thousands of wildfires. In fact, each year more than 3500 wildfires are recorded in our state, and most of them got their start in the same way. Escaped debris burning.
It’s not that anyone deliberately intends to do this. Smokey Bear taught us a long time ago to be careful with fire and most of us know the rules about keeping our yard debris fires safe. We watch the weather, and have shovels and hoes and water on hand. Yet wildland firefighters continue to see common mistakes that lead to loss of woodlands, property and even lives. Despite a requirement to notify the GFC of the intention to burn, Georgia’s wildfire rate has remained constant. Complacency crept in and fires were left unattended, or smoldering embers caught a breeze and then caught the woods on fire. Change was needed so that a focus on burning safety was not just a good habit. It needed to be second nature, with laws that have teeth and ensure burners take responsibility for their fires, along with any damage that results from escaped burning.
During the last session of the Georgia Legislature, lawmakers addressed the issue. Under Senate Bill 119, Georgia code section 12-6-90 was changed to eliminate the notification requirement to the GFC of one’s intention to burn hand-piled natural debris. The law supports Georgians’ right to burn on their property and outlines measures required of burners to ensure safety.
Those measures include: adequate space between the fire and woodlands/structures; sunrise to sunset time frame; person on site responsible until fire is extinguished; and reasonable precautions to prevent escaped fire. Numerous resources are available here on our GFC website to help you remember the requirements, so be sure to check them out: Burn Notification Changes.
One aspect of the new law, the requirement for sunup to sundown only burning, is a feature that has several benefits. A sunup start-time allows burners more hours to get their burning completed in what is likely a busy day filled with other chores. In addition, it will help support air quality. Smoke behaves differently during the day than it does at night, when it settles. This is expected to reduce the number of smoke complaints to GFC and the Environmental Protection Division from people whose evening activities are negatively impacted by lingering smoke.
Some things about burning have not changed, and that includes an ongoing requirement to notify the GFC county ranger for agriculture, silviculture and land-clearing burns for residential or commercial development. Those activities DO require a permit.
These changes will take a little time to get used to and we understand that. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the GFC folks in your area GFC County Contacts, and allow us to answer any questions you may have. Together we can bring down the number of wildfires in Georgia, which enhances safety for everybody.