Burning brush is risky endeavor, fire officials say

March 22, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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With sunshine and warmer weather making sporadic appearances in the past few weeks, many in the county are taking advantage and cleaning up brush and debris from the winter.

Burning those items, however, not only violates municipal ordinances in many communities, but can also cause greater issues.

An increase in brush fires has been noticeable in recent days. On Tuesday, two fires occurred about 30 minutes apart in Evans City and Mars, respectively. On Wednesday, crews worked to extinguish a similar fire in Valencia. All were brush fires that spread due to wind and other factors.

According to fire officials, conditions are right for such fires to spread rapidly and become out of control.

Scott Garing, Harmony Fire District chief, said throughout the county, fire departments have seen an uptick in brush fire calls in recent weeks.

He said many people don't realize the vegetation on the ground currently is dry and burns easily. He said because of that, even small fires can spread quickly with a light wind.

“Pretty quickly they can become uncontrollable and we have to get involved,” he said.

According to Sean Sokolowski, Adams Area assistant fire chief, even a small breeze can turn into a strong gust in a matter of moments, making conditions unsafe.

Garing said residents should pile up compost and debris in a specific area and wait until grass and vegetation is green and the weather turns warmer before burning it. Sokolowski added that the burning location should be away from any structures in an open area, and it is a good idea to keep a hose nearby in case it becomes larger than intended.

Both fire officials said it is important to pay attention to local burning ordinances, as some municipalities restrict the days and times during which fires can be burned. Others, such as Cranberry Township, do not allow burning of debris. Recreational fires only are permitted and cannot exceed 3 feet in width or 2 feet in height.

Additionally, the fires can't be closer than 25 feet to any structure or property line, and must be contained in a ring. Those violating the ordinance face fines up to $1,000.

In Butler, residents are allowed to burn yard waste in October and November between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Residents are required to obtain permits from the fire department to have recreational outdoor fires.

Recreational fires are permitted all year long from 5 a.m. to midnight. People using portable fireplaces must follow the manufacturer's instructions. Camp fires on the ground must be at least 25 feet from structures and combustible materials and are limited to 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height.

In Butler Township, yard waste can be burned in March, April, September, October and November between sunrise and 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Fires must be at least 30 feet from structures and 10 feet from property lines and roads, and continually attended until completely extinguished.

Recreational fires are allowed all year long using only clean and dry wood products. Treated wood and construction waste cannot be burned. Fires can't exceed 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet in height, and must be at least 25 feet from structures. Residents using portable fireplaces must follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Fires must be attended until they are extinguished and means to extinguish, such as a hose or bucket of water, must be kept nearby.

Chris Switala, the chief of the Butler City and Butler Township fire departments, said several unintended fires occur every year in the township due to people not attending yard waste fires.

He said permits are required in the city. The permits enable the fire department to withdraw the permits if neighbors complain about fires that become too large or dangerous.

Staff writer Steve Ferris contributed to this report.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.