The burn ban in Ohio has been in effect for 2020 since the beginning of March, yet local fire departments, as well as departments in neighboring counties, have had to respond to multiple fires in violation of the law.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines an open burn as any set outdoor fire that does not vent to a chimney or stack.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 1503.18 is the law that prohibits open burning from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. five months of the year. Those months are March, April, May, October and November.
Even though there is a time set in place, open burning is also not supposed to take place after dark.
Wayne Township Fire Rescue (WFR) Chief Chris Wysong gave information on a fire they reported to earlier in March.
“The fire was the result of rubbish being burned and spreading out of control to the surrounding area,” explained Wysong in an email. “Members were able to quickly contain the fire and spoke with the property owner about the burn ban and burn laws. We encourage residents to consider recycling and contracting with a garbage company to remove their household rubbish.”
Wysong called and spoke to ODNR to discuss more about the ban to assist in giving more information:
First, the Ohio Burn Ban is the law and has been a statewide law since 1988. It is not new or temporary. It is not created by a local fire department, although local departments often share things on the bans with the public.
“We just have an easier way with social media accounts to remind our residents of the information in conjunction with local news media,” Wysong wrote.
Second, open burning is particularly dangerous in the spring and fall as leaves are on the ground, grass is not green, and the weather is warm, dry and windy. The time of day restriction (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) is because it is the warmest — relative humidity creates the most risk for fire, meaning science supports the reasoning for the burning laws, explained Wysong.
Third, the law is not intended to prevent responsible campfires during this time. According to Wysong, ODNR explains they are not trying to stop cooking campfires that are being maintained responsibly. Anyone who has a campfire that escapes is still in violation of ORC 1503.18.
During an interview with the R-H, Washington Court House Fire Department (WFD) Chief Tim Downing explained that it is best to stay with your campfire and extinguish it prior to walking away to keep it from getting out of control and becoming in violation of the ordinance.
As Downing is chief within city limits, where there is often less than 1,000 feet from an inhabited structure, he discussed what is allowed in that circumstance.
If fires are less than 1,000 feet from an inhabited structure, they should be for cooking, warmth, pleasure, ceremonial or other similar purposes and not for waste disposal. These types of fires must use clean, dry, seasoned firewood only. They must also be no larger than three feet in diameter and two feet high, according to EPA. If these restrictions are followed, it is not required to give notification or receive permission from EPA to have them.
These smaller fires don’t need a permit to have, although it is appreciated if community members call to inform the WFD that they will be happening.
Larger ceremonial fires can be held less than 1,000 feet from an inhabited structure following the following guidelines: must use only clean, dry and seasoned firewood, be no larger than five feet in diameter and five feet high, burn no longer than three hours, and is not used for waste disposal.
Although there are state guidelines, local departments can make guidelines more strict. In order to have a large ceremonial fire, prior inspection and the attainment of a fire permit from the local fire department is required.
“If someone wishes to have a ceremonial fire within the jurisdiction of the Washington Court House Fire Department, they need to notify us and get permission. Ceremonial fire, because of the size of them and the heat they put off, depending on where they have them, they can be more hazardous. It creates more risk,” said Downing. “We’re not saying they can’t have it at all. We’re just saying, let us know so we can come out and inspect the area. You can show us where you want it. If everything passes, we’ll issue the permit — have a good time.”
Downing explained the WFD does these inspections and also issues the permits at no cost.
He further explained that another common problem within the city and more condensed areas is a fire may disturb neighbors. If a neighbor has a legitimate concern such as a family member on oxygen, the WFD will have to order the fire to be put out.
Sometimes these neighborhood disputes aren’t even about the fire but are about another thing entirely. Neighbors then keep calling and complaining back-and-forth on each other.
“We’re not law enforcement and we’re not here to mediate problems between neighborhoods,” said Downing. “We would encourage people just to talk to their neighbors if they want to have campfires and make sure that’s not going to bother their neighbors. It would be so much better if everybody just worked together on that. It would lessen the utilization of our resources and of your tax dollars on sending emergency vehicles to a place where people don’t actually mind the fires.”
“Work together, have respect for one another,” he said. “I find that most neighbors, if you talk to them and get to know them, they’re actually fantastic people and are willing to work together. Invite them over! Invite your neighbors over around a campfire and everybody has a good time, everybody learns to get along and you find you have a lot in common.”
According to Downing, although the WFD doesn’t issue citations, they have had to report people to the EPA, which does issue citations. Those reported were individuals who had been in violation of the ordinance several times and chose not to adhere to the law.
EPA regulates open burning. The following items are never to be burned at any time or any place in Ohio:
-Materials containing rubber, grease, asphalt, or made from petroleum.
-Fires must be more than 1,000 feet from neighbor’s inhabited building
-No burning when air pollution alert, warning, or emergency is in effect
-Fire/smoke cannot obscure visibility on roadway, railways or airfields
-No waste generated off the premises may be burned
-No burning within village or city limits or restricted areas
It is requested that residents contact the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 740-335-6170 before lighting any open burns, explained Wysong. The sheriff’s office will make contact with the local fire department to ensure it is safe to burn and log it so they are aware of the fire.
Information in this article came from Wayne Township Fire Rescue Chief Chris Wysong and Washington Court House Fire Department Chief Tim Downing. Online sources for the information include the ODNR website and the Ohio EPA website
There are other guidelines for various types of fire and it is suggested to look into your local regulations prior to burning. For questions, contact Ohio Division of Forestry at 1-877-247-8733 or Ohio EPA at 614-644-2270.
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.