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State burn ban lifting on Sunday, could aid Irma cleanup
Gainesville and Hall County reopen permitting
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Leaves of a dead and fallen tree sit in a field near Green Street. A burn ban in Hall County will be lifted on Oct. 1. - photo by Nick Bowman

The five-month burn ban in Hall County and Gainesville is lifting on Sunday.

Fire departments of both areas are opening their burn permit systems and reminding residents to call for a permit before they begin burning debris.

And there is a lot of debris to burn.

By Sunday it will be almost three weeks since Tropical Storm Irma hit the area. The scope of the damage combined with the burn ban has left many Hall property owners choosing between paying for tree removal services, removing trees themselves and paying for disposal or letting the debris sit on their property.

The May-to-September burn ban is put in place by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and enforced by municipalities.

Residential burn permits can be received by calling:

Gainesville Fire Department: 770-534-3612

Hall County Fire Marshal: 770-536-2442

Burning allowed:

  • Leaves, grass, small limbs

Burning not allowed:

  • Building materials, furniture, plastic, clothing, rubber or tires, newspapers, garbage, petroleum products or boxes

Other rules:

  • Fires must be at least 50 feet from structures and property lines

  • Fires only allowed during daylight hours (no coals smoldering after dark)

  • A water supply must be available to extinguish the fire

  • An adult must be present while the fire is burning

  • No burning on windy, overcast or rainy days

Source: Gainesville Fire Department and Hall County Fire Marshal’s Office

The summer burn ban has been in place since 1996 to preserve air quality in select Georgia counties around Atlanta, according to EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers.

The city of Gainesville will remove storm debris placed on the curb at city residences until Oct. 13, according to the Gainesville Fire Department.

Hall County government removed trees and debris that blocked roads or fell on public property, but it doesn’t remove trees from private property and won’t collect debris left on the curb or roadside.

Hall County Fire Marshal Bryan Cash said on Wednesday that the county received many requests to lift the burn ban after Tropical Storm Irma hit the area. The requests were forwarded on to EPD, which refused to lift the ban given that October was only a few weeks away.

Chambers said EPD granted storm-related burn requests to local governments, which take steps to limit pollution generated by burns, but didn’t waive the burn ban or lift it early for the general public.

Now, local fire departments are preparing for a large number of burn permits in the area.

In Gainesville, burn permits are given out by the Gainesville Fire Department by calling 770-534-3612. A member of the department will inspect the site before issuing a permit, according to an announcement from the department. Only small brush can be burned, including grass, leaves and small tree limbs of 3 inches or less.

Hall County offers two types of permits: a residential burn permit and a land-clearing burn permit, the latter being a permit for larger burns that require an inspection from Hall County Fire Services.

Neither permit carries a cost, Cash said.

Residential permits in the county are given out through an automated system reached at 770-536-2442. Permits are good for that day only and cover all cities except for Gainesville.

Land-clearing permits are given out after a site visit, which requires 24 hours of notice to the Hall County Fire Marshal’s Office at 770-531-6838. These permits require the debris to be in a pit and the fire must be fed by an air curtain destroyer, which is basically a large fan that keeps the fire burning hot to cut down on smoke.

Under normal circumstances, Hall County’s residential burn permits are limited to limbs smaller than 3 inches in diameter, according to Cash. This year, the county is bending the rules to make storm cleanup a bit easier.

“If they go by what’s in the regulations — they’re 50 feet from any piece of property, they have a water source, they’re there with (the fire), it’s out by dark and it’s a manageable-size pile — we’re going to have just a little bit of flexibility this year because we know with the storm stuff that’s what we’re going to be dealing with,” Cash said. “If I pull up and there’s a bulldozer there and they have a big pile that’s the size of a house and it’s on fire and they don’t have a pit or a blower, we’ll have to deal with that then.”

Because the city is offering free debris pickup and because it’s more densely populated, it’s not making any allowances for burn permits, according to Gainesville Fire Department spokesman Keith Smith.

Both Smith and Cash said they’re expecting a large number of permit requests after the ban is lifted. Permits are only good for the day they’re issued in both Gainesville and Hall County. If a pile isn’t finished by the end of the day when a permit is issued, another permit must be applied for the next morning.

Burn permits will stop being issued after April 30.

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