2017-09-22 / In the Know

Open burning regulations and permit refresher

By B. Michael Thurlow Special to the Leader

As summer winds down and fall chore season arrives along with the leaves that will soon be falling, I thought it was a great time for a reminder of the open burning regulations and let everyone know about a new online burn permit opportunity.

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 state law and the Maine forestry regulations.

Some folks don’t realize that permits are required for many types of recreational backyard fires. Title 12, Chapter 807, ss. 9325 of the Maine Revised Statutes, defines what types of open burns require permits and those that do not.

The burning must be conducted according to the terms and conditions of the permit and may not create a nuisance. A permit is required for the following types of recreational fires:

 Recreational campfires kindled when the ground is not covered by snow;

 Fires in conjunction with holiday and festive celebrations;

 Burning of leaves, brush, deadwood, leaves, grass, and tree cuttings.

When not prohibited by state rule, local ordinance or water utility regulation, the following types of burning are permissible without a permit if no nuisance is created:

 Recreational campfires kindled when the ground is covered by snow or on frozen bodies of water;

 Residential use of outdoor grills and fireplaces for recreational purposes such as preparing food; and

 Use of outdoor grills and fireplaces for recreational purposes such as preparing food at commercial campgrounds in organized towns as long as the commercial campgrounds are licensed by the health engineering division of the Department of Human Services.

The permitting process starts with a daily scientific analysis to determine what the forest service calls the class day.

A formula 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, the lowest score, is 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 1 or 2 and that determination is generally made by 9 a.m. during the season.

Red flag warnings are issued when critical fire danger is evident, including strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures creating the potential for explosive fire growth.

During red flag warnings no outside burning is authorized, including backyard recreational fires not associated with cooking or cooking appliances.

Burn permits have, and will continue to be available at each of the neighborhood fire stations at no charge. We have also recently arranged for a no cost, online burn permit option through a website that can be accessed at www.wardensreport.com.

Now, instead of coming to one of our stations, you can apply for a permit online. The system will only allow permits when it is the proper class day, and we have the local control to limit permits as necessary if the wind blows more than forecast or for any other safety reason.

The website has been in operation for several years and the public feedback received by departments who have used it has been very positive.

All fires must be a safe distance from all hazards, property lines and usually 25 feet from combustibles and structures.

No fires are authorized on any of the town’s beaches at any time. 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.

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 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.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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