By Elise Franco
Local fire departments say open-burning laws are necessary to protect residents after the brightly colored foliage falls to the ground.
Ohio law prohibits burning debris outdoors from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in October and November, but some communities, such as Boardman and Austintown, ban open burning almost completely.
“With the warm, dry weather of fall, conditions are favorable for trash and debris fires to escape,” David Lytle of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry said in a news release. “Burning leaves and tree debris under these conditions also increases the risk for wildfires.
“All it takes is a little wind to cause a debris fire to escape control and spread.”
Lt. Bill Glaser, fire- prevention officer for Boardman Fire Department, said the township has a law against leaf burning. He said the fall weather conditions are one of the main reasons.
“You don’t want people to try to burn painted or chemical-treated wood, garbage and trash,” he said. “Also, if it’s a really dry, hot summer, or very windy, grass or field fires could start.”
Austintown Fire Chief Andy Frost Jr. said Austintown Township has had a law against open burning for many years.
“We hardly have any problems with it anymore,” he said. “In the ’70s and ’80s, you would drive down Raccoon Road and not even be able to see from all the smoke.”
Frost said the law is beneficial for everyone because thick smoke and potential grass fires pose hazards to residents.
Before burning, ODNR suggests looking into state and local laws as well as potential regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Use a 55-gallon drum with a weighted screen lid to act as a contained trash incinerator instead of igniting an open flame.
Both townships do allow recreational bonfires with the proper permit, and Glaser said it’s important that residents follow the rules.
“Open burning is usually a pretty common issue everywhere,” he said. “We do require residents to get a permit from our office so that we have the opportunity to give them the rules.”
As with any type of fire, Frost said safety is key. Have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby during a bonfire in case the flame gets out of hand.
Glaser said the department does field complaints about unattended fire pits and smoke coming into homes.
“If we do get a complaint, we’ll send them a warning letter outlining the rules, or we may pay them a visit,” he said.
Since he’s been with the department, Glaser said no one has been charged for open burning.
“It’s usually a matter of the person not knowing the rules. ... Those problems usually rectify themselves,” he said. “Criminal charges are a last resort for us in this case unless it’s been a chronic problem.”