Board bans burning close to dwellings

Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2007

By Staff
Commissioners declare limited state of emergency; violators may be fined $100
Staff Writer
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, during a special meeting Monday morning, declared a limited state of emergency in the county and banned open burning within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling.
The action is the result of some county residents continuing to burn debris despite a statewide burning ban amid continuing drought.
With Commissioner Robert Cayton absent, six commissioners voted 4-2 to declare the limited state of emergency, which allows the county to impose a fine for open burning within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling. The declaration authorizes the county’s fire marshal and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies to issue $100 fines to people who violate the open-burning ban. The ban does not apply to people who burn debris in an enclosed container within 100 feet of a dwelling. In addition to a fine if convicted of violating the ban, violators also face paying court costs.
Gov. Mike Easley issued the statewide burning ban in response to continuing drought conditions across the state. Commissioner Hood Richardson was quick to explain that despite the commissioners’ vote, that ban is still in place.
The statewide ban allows open burning within 100 feet of an occupied dwelling. Setting restrictions within that boundary is the responsibility of county government. Beaufort County Emergency Management Coordinator John Pack pleaded with commissioners Monday to further restrict open burning until their Jan. 7 regular meeting.
Open burning includes burning leaves, branches and other plant material. In all cases it is illegal to burn trash, lumber, tires, newspapers, plastics or other non-vegetative material, according to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Commissioner Jay McRoy voiced concern that the proposed restriction would allow residents to harass neighbors trying to rid their properties of leaf litter.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage agreed there was “a point where property rights are being affected,” but he agreed to support a ban that would be in effect until sometime in January.
Because there are dry crops and dead grass throughout the county, Richardson said he “didn’t have a problem with giving a 30-day ban to be reviewed by commissioners.”
Pack said the increased restrictions would “take a little stress off the fire departments” that have responded to numerous out-of-control debris fires in recent days. Drought conditions increase the likelihood of fires spreading out of control and increase the number of emergency runs fire departments have to make, in turn increasing risk to firefighters.
Dean Lucas, a N.C. Forest Service ranger in Beaufort County, told commissioners that 44 percent of fires that he responds to in the county originate from debris-burning fires.