Open burning bears caution

by Town Reminder

Fire chiefs remind of guidelines

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY – With unusually warm temperatures luring residents outdoors early, it’s important to heed advice offered by local fire chiefs in regard to open burning in backyards when getting a leg-up on spring cleaning.
First and foremost, all residents must obtain permits, at a cost of $10, from their respective fire district department in order to begin burning. The permits are good for the season. Previously, town hall issued such permits, but as of 2011 that task has been taken over by the fire departments. “When you come in, we give people a little lecture about safety, when to start, how to be careful,” said Fire District No. 2 Chief David Keefe. “And we get an opportunity to see them face to face.”
Open burning is allowed from January to May 1. Daily, a resident has between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to conduct a burn.
But before a resident can begin to burn, he or she must notify and check with their fire department. The fire departments will verify with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that the weather and air conditions are safe for burning. If a red flag is raised by the department, burning cannot happen anywhere. If the flag is orange, yellow, green or blue, local fire departments will use their discretion when allowing open burning. Additionally, if wind speeds increase or weather conditions worsen, fire departments can put out any fires burning at that time.
Restrictions are placed on the size and contents of a burn pile. Small piles, which do not produce much heat, are requested, so as to better control the fire. They’re also easier to extinguish.
Embers from larger piles can be quickly swept into the air and carried by air currents to other locations. Keefe said those embers could certainly ignite any dry shrubs or brush, such as the Mount Holyoke Range. Dually, the embers could spark a fire in a neighboring yard.
Twigs, sticks and yard waste are the only items allowed in a burn pile. Much to the surprise of many, leaves are not allowed in the piles, because of the high volume of smoke they create. Also not allowed are stumps, large tree limbs, old bills or paper, construction material, old furniture or tree logs. Cumbersome tree pieces should be properly disposed of at the dump. If found to be burning such materials, a resident can be fined up to $500 by the Forest Warden’s office, said Fire District No. 1 Chief Robert Authier.
He and Keefe advised residents to keep the burn pile 75 feet away from structures or as far away as possible.
Each emphasized to never leave a fire unattended. Residents must stay with the burn pile at all times.
If the wind picks up, extinguish the fire.
They suggested residents keep a garden hose with a spray tip on and near the burning site. If a hose isn’t available, keep a large bucket of water at the ready. When extinguishing the fire, spread the debris apart to make sure the flame is completely out.
“Use common sense,” said Authier.
Remember to be aware of clothing and refrain from consuming alcohol while burning.
And as always, if a fire gets out of hand, too big for one’s liking or a resident feels nervous about their fire, call the fire department.
“If you don’t follow these rules, there’s a good change your little brush fire in your backyard is going to get out of hand,” said Keefe.
He said residents who have been given the OK to burn brush should not be surprised if a member of the fire department shows up multiple times a day to monitor their fire. “We have the responsibility to police it,” he said.
Should a resident conduct an open burning session without first having obtained a permit, he or she will be subsequently fined. So too could a resident not following open burning rules. Their permit can also be revoked for the season.
For the most part, Keefe said South Hadley residents are very aware of the regulations and are good about following them. “People are very sensitive to what’s going on,” he said.
This season, just one resident in District No. 1 has had to call the fire department when a backyard brush fire had gotten out of hand. The department promptly responded and assisted the resident. In District No. 2, there have been a small number of non-permitted burns or piles that were too big. To date, there have not been any large brush fires in either of the districts.

Open burning in brief

What to burn:
– Small sticks
– Twigs
– Yard waste

What NOT to burn:
– Leaves
– Old bills, paper
– Tree stumps, logs
– Old furniture
– Construction materials

When to burn:
– First obtain a permit from fire district for $10
– Verify with the department if the day’s conditions are OK
– Burn between 10 a.m and 4 p.m.

Where to burn:
– 75 feet away from structures or as far away as able

Open burning tips:
– Stay with fire at all times
– Keep a garden hose with spray nozzle on nearby
– Be mindful of clothing
– Keep burn pile small
– Spread pile apart when dousing with water

In an emergency/for questions:
– Call 9-1-1
– Call Fire District No. 1: (413) 532-5343
– Call Fire District No. 2: (413) 534-5803