County Comment/Burn Ban Lifted, Caution Advised

by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners lifted the countywide ban on open-air burning on Tuesday, October 22, in line with State of Maryland policy.

The state lifted the ban on open-air burning on October 15, as the result of recent wet weather and the improvement of drought conditions. The ban has not been lifted in state parks.

The Board of County Commissioners has authority, through the Health Department, to issue or rescind bans on outdoor burning.

At the meeting, Emergency Services Department Director Joe Kroboth said it would be difficult to enforce a burn ban in the County if the state has lifted that sanction, but open burning should be discouraged. Kroboth expressed concern not because of the surface moisture conditions, but due to the lack of available water supply in the rural areas from streams and creeks to support a major fire fighting effort.

“I would suggest a word of caution to all those who elect to conduct open-air burning, for them to be continually monitoring the burning processes and to have appropriate extinguishing systems in-place at all times. Burning should follow standard state regulations such as avoiding burning near wooded and tall brush land areas, notifying Fire and Rescue Communication at 240-313-2910, and obtaining appropriate permits from the Health Department,” Kroboth said.

Laurie Bucher, Director of the Environmental Health Division of the Washington County Health Department provided guidelines for open-air burning. Burn permits are required for commercial properties, large land-clearing projects, large amounts of brush, fire training exercises and certain agricultural projects. Small brush piles, cooking fires, recreational campfires or warming fires for workers do not require a Health Department burn permit.

Bucher said that household trash may not be burned. Such items as cardboard, plastics, roofing materials, tires, creosoted railroad ties, vinyl siding, painted or treated wood, large stumps and logs are also banned.

Fines can be issued for open-air burning without the necessary permit and nuisance issues may exist even if permits are issued. In any case, Fire and Rescue Communication must be notified, even if a permit is not required, Bucher said.

Other concerns have arisen concerning open-air burning. Don Schwartz, chair of the County Drought Assessment Committee has said that leaf-fall has not occurred this year and that it would take only a week without rain to be back into the previous “tinderbox situation.”

If you must burn, Health Department regulations require burn sites to be 200 feet from any neighboring dwelling, work place or where people congregate. Nuisances, hazardous situations or excess air pollution cannot be created. Steps should be taken to minimize smoke and limits placed on the time fires are allowed to smolder. Material to be burned must have originated on site and fires must be attended at all times with sufficient control equipment.

The regulations also state that specific times for burning are listed on permits and if that schedule cannot be maintained, the Health Department should be called at 301-791-3270 to renew the permit. If burning is to be done within 200 feet of woodlands or inflammable material that could ignite and carry fire to a woodland, the burning must take place between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight, and the Maryland Forest Service must be contacted at 301-791-4010.