Open burning can damage property and aggravate allergies, and bring fines on those who do it illegally.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana county residents need to check the Ohio open-burning laws before setting flames to any debris.
A penalty of $500, 60 days in jail, or both can be imposed on those who are caught burning debris outside without express consent from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency or familiarizing themselves with the rules.
"Open burning is not allowed in municipal corporations, or within corporations with a population ranging from 1,000 to 10,000," said Jim Veres of the EPA's Northeast Ohio District office.
There is also a buffer zone that extends 1 mile around municipal areas. Rural areas with smaller populations are usually unrestricted, Veres added.
Risks: Reports from the Ohio EPA say some of the materials being burned can release a variety of toxic fumes. Spores released from burning plants can cause residents with allergies to have difficulty breathing. The corrosion of metal siding and damage to paint in city limits also can be caused by open burning.
"It is better to buy bags for the leaves than to pay the fines that you will receive for open burning illegally," said Hubert Clardy, chief fire inspector for Youngstown.
Clardy added that fire inspectors have had to write citations for residents.
What's allowed: Some forms of open burning are permissible anywhere, however, such as campfires and cookouts. Ceremonial fires are allowed, as long as residents have prior consent from the Ohio EPA and leave fires burning only for three hours.
People on strike and on picket lines may have open fires during unfavorable weather conditions.
Veres also said burning of shrubbery, plants and other landscape waste is permitted. But residents of Ohio need to check with their fire departments for local regulations. Even though the Ohio EPA says burning landscape waste is allowed, residents need to be 1,000 feet from their neighbors.
Enforcement: The city of Salem follows the Ohio EPA regulations. "We will get people calling our office saying they're having a cookout, but when we get there, they are burning tires, brush and everything else," said Aldie Breaulp, Salem fire inspector.
Breaulp said there are programs in the schools and fire prevention classes to help curb such problems. He also said if residents wish to burn brush and other shrubbery, they must show his department written consent from the Ohio EPA, which he said "is pretty hard to get nowadays."
"In some extreme cases, ignitable and explosive materials can be burned. But a letter or application explaining the situation must be submitted to us," explained Robert Ramhoff, director of air pollution control for Mahoning and Trumbull counties. "We need to make sure the situation follows the criteria for open burning of such materials."
He said it is usually law enforcement agencies who receive the permission to burn ignitable or explosive materials.
"The department receives calls where residents want to use open burning to get rid of rat infestation, but they are usually denied because there are alternative methods to get rid of rat problems," Ramhoff added. He recalled a time when Newton Falls, in the 1970s, used open burning to prevent a rodent infestation and the spread of disease.