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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Statewide partial burning ban to end today

Monday, April 30, 2007

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The state's partial outside burning ban is scheduled to end Monday, but that does not necessarily mean that county residents should let their guard down, Rodney Howell, Henry County fire marshal, said Friday.

Henry County does not have additional restrictions beyond the state fire ban. Under that ban, burning is allowed only from 4 p.m. to midnight.

"We always have concerns of brush fires this time of year," Howell said.

He said contributing factors are low humidity; winds; cool or cold spring temperatures resulting in leaves not fully developing on trees, which would provide shade; and dry leaves, twigs and limbs on the ground.

Howell said the partial outside burning ban requires the person doing the burning:

"¢ To burn only leaves, limbs, twigs, etc., on his or her own property. Bringing a neighbor's debris to burn on your property is not allowed.

"¢ Not to burn anything within 50 feet of a structure.

"¢ To have a garden hose or bucket of water ready to extinguish the fire.

Howell added that under state environmental regulations, effective all year and all hours, a person cannot burn paper, pasteboard boxes, plastics, insulation, wire or any type of trash or garbage.

Howell said fire calls in Henry County are down significantly compared with last year, in part because the winter was milder, rains kept leaves and grass moist, and people were more careful. The last point, he said, may be linked to public education by the county and city.

Even when the partial burning ban ends, Howell urges people to use caution. He said burning brush is unpredictable and so is the wind; in fact, a fire can create its own wind. So anyone burning should have a water source available to put out a fire if it gets out of hand, and have people nearby in case of a problem.

Also, if a fire gets out of hand, "call 911 immediately. Don't spend a lot of time fighting the fire yourself," Howell said.

Last year, an elderly Henry County man died fighting a fire during this time of year, and, the year before, an elderly Henry County man died from injuries he suffered when his clothes caught fire while he was fighting a brush fire, Howell said.

Martinsville is not affected by the state ban, which began Feb. 15. However, the city has its own partial outside burning ban in effect 365 days a year, according to Kris Shrader, division chief of operations (which covers all fire and EMS operations) for the city.

Burning is allowed only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the city, and residents are allowed to burn only paper products, leaves and yard and garden trimmings. Burning must not be within 50 feet of an occupied building and 300 feet of any tree line or wooded area.

The pile of materials being burned must be less than 5 feet in diameter and 3 feet in height, must be attended at all times, and the city prefers that the person doing the burning be prepared to extinguish the fire (either with water or a rake), Shrader said.

Some years Martinsville has had an all-out ban on outside burning, but this year officials have not felt the need to do that, Shrader said.

He rated this season's fire threat as moderate, not severe, in the city. He said that rainfall within the previous 48 hours had reduced the fire threat somewhat.

Shrader urges people to avoid outside burning if at all possible unless they are comfortable doing it. A fire can get out of control and if it damages another person's property, the person doing the burning is liable, Shrader said.

According to a news release from the Virginia Department of Forestry, 34 percent more wooded acres have burned so far this year than during the same period in 2006. Since Jan. 1, a total of 5,010 acres have burned this year compared with 3,732 in 2006. That has forestry officials concerned because last year was the most active fire season since the year 2000.

"If the trend continues, we could be in for another tough year," said John Miller, VDOF's director of resource protection. "More than 94 percent of all wild-land fires in Virginia are human-caused, with the number one reason being the burning of trash or yard debris. This is followed by arson, equipment use, smoking and children.

"Almost all of the fires were preventable. If people would take the proper precautions, we could greatly reduce the fire threat in Virginia," he added.


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