2015-05-29 / In the Know

Regulations for open burning process explained

By B. Michael Thurlow Special to the Leader

This time of year we often get calls inquiring about open burning regulations, so I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the process.

Burning leaves and brush has been a long-standing practice in many communities across the state for generations. So much so that the state of Maine has established open burning rules and guidelines in Chapter 12 of Maine law.

In the town of Scarborough we don’t have a local town ordinance that regulates open burning. Instead we assist the Maine Forest Service by enforcing this state law and the Maine Forestry regulations.

The process starts with a daily scientific analysis to determine what the Forest Service calls the class day. Each morning during the spring, summer and fall, the forest rangers review the current and forecasted weather for the day.

They conduct scientific measurements of humidity, fine fuel moisture, and other variables, which are put into a formula that yields a numeric class day determination score between 1 and 5 for several different geographical areas of the state since conditions can be quite different from area to area.

One is the lowest score when it is safest to burn and five represents an extreme danger for forest fires. Open burning is only allowed when the Class Day is a one or two and that determination is generally made by 9 a.m. during the season.

One of the other terms you may hear on the news or in the press is a red flag warning. These are issued when critical fire danger is evident, including strong winds, low humidity and low temperatures creating the potential for explosive fire growth.

During red flag warnings no outside burning is authorized.

Once the Class Day is determined and conditions are considered safe to burn residents must obtain Maine open burning permit.

This permit is required by anyone who is burning any type of combustible material out of doors in the open with the exception of very small cooking fires in a device like a grill, fireplace, or other vessel designed to contain the ashes and prevent fire spread. Small contained cooking fires do not require a permit.

Burn permits are available at each of the neighborhood fire stations at no charge and are only issued for one day. All fires must be a safe distance from all hazards and property lines.

No fires are authorized on any of the town’s beaches. Fires must be supervised by the responsible party at all times. Permit applicants must have a suitable water source and/or hand tools like shovels and rakes available to control and eliminate the spread of fire.

Burn piles must be kept small, safe, and manageable. If a fire spreads or becomes uncontrolled the responsible party may face prosecution and restitution for fire control activities under state law.

Finally, fires can’t create a nuisance for neighbors or others in the area.

As a convenience the state also sells open burning permits on its website for $7 each at: www13. informe.org/burnpermit/public/index.html. These permits are issued for three days instead of one, but the downside is if the class day changes to a three or higher during those three days the permit becomes void and there are no refunds issued.

Fire danger is highest in the early spring once the snow melts but before the leaves come out and things start to green up.

It is also high in the summer during prolonged periods without rain. Conditions sometimes become dangerous again in the late fall when the leaves drop and dry out before the first snowfall.

Open burning is a tradition that has been conducted in town for generations. It can be done safely if applicants follow the regulations, obtain the required permit, constantly supervise the burn, and only conduct fires on days when it is safe to do so.

When burning please also be considerate of your neighbors by keeping your piles small, and your fires hot to minimize smoke and so the smoke that is generated quickly dissipates and doesn’t create a nuisance.

If you have any questions about open burning or any fire department issue you may contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

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