Outdoor burn ban starts next year

"Anyone who plans to wait until next spring to rake the leaves off the lawn into a big burn pile should consider doing it this fall. As of Jan. 1, unpermitted outdoor burning in unincorporated Island County will be illegal.In April, the population of unincorporated Whidbey and Camano islands topped 50,000, placing the county in violation of the the state's Clean Air Act. The 1991 law forces counties to ban outdoor burning at this level. Early this year, county residents felt the effect of the law when the Northwest Air Pollution Authority (NWAPA) -- the state agency that is responsible for maintaining good air quality -- banned burn barrels.Currently, county residents may burn natural vegetation in fires that are smaller than 4 cubic feet in size. The Clean Air Act would require people setting even these small fires to have a permit to do so. At present, only those who burn large piles need a permit. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said this week that while the ban may improve local air quality, it could hamstring his office. Hawley is the county's fire marshal, and his deputies will be required to enforce the burn ban. Facing a potential 20 percent increase in 911 calls next year, he said he does not have the manpower to do the job.Anytime we see a plume of smoke, it's going to have to be investigated, Hawley said Thursday. To comply with the law, the Island County Board of Commissioners can enact a permanent outdoor burn ban in one of three ways. They can simply ban burning, leaving only eight days during the year open for county residents to burn yard waste without a permit. Under another plan, the county can contract with NWAPA to establish a permitting system, under which every outdoor burn would require a permit. Or the county could choose to do that same type of permitting itself.NWAPA's burn ban enforcement deadline will also affect Island County cities. No burning, including burning for land clearing, will be allowed in Oak Harbor or in its urban growth area. By 2006, Langley and Coupeville will be required to live up to the same standard.There are other types of fires that will also require a permit. Agricultural burning and fires set to regenerate rare and endangered plant species will need permits, as will firefighter training fires, and weed abatement burning. Small campfires will be the only type of fire allowed without a permit. "

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