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County lacks agency to oversee burn regulations

With the dawn of warmer weather, the State Fire Marshal's Office reminded residents this week to follow state and local open burn regulations. But in Carroll County, there is no agency to oversee burn permits or complaints regarding open air burning.

"We just don't have the resources to do that," said Leigh Broderick, director of the county Bureau of Environmental Health.

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The Maryland Department of the Environment bans open burning — such as large bonfires and some agricultural burning — between June 1 and Sept. 1 in Central Maryland counties, but Carroll County residents would likely have a difficult time obtaining necessary permits at any point in the year, Broderick explained.

After 2012, the bureau stopped issuing burn permits due to budget cuts, he said.

At that time, Broderick said, staff often performed in-person inspections of properties where a resident requested a permit to ensure that the materials that would be burned were allowed and to check the distance of the fire location from structures such as houses.

Now, he said, calls concerning open burning are referred to the Maryland Department of the Environment, where spokesperson Jay Apperson said staff does take complaints. But Apperson said he was unsure whether the department would handle a permit request.

To his knowledge, he said, Caroline County on the Eastern Shore also lacks an agency to handle open burning regulations. In Baltimore County, the issue is handled by the county's fire marshal office. In Frederick County, residents are directed to the county's Environmental Health Services.

"It's a Catch 22," Broderick said. "You can't burn without a permit, but, at this point, I don't think you can get a permit."

There are safeguards for residents looking to burn and those concerned about dangerous burning.

If someone is burning something they should not be — like oil, plastics, tires or aerosol cans, Broderick said — the Bureau of Environmental Health would likely step in because, in those instances, air quality would be an issue.

If a fire was too large or out of control, the fire companies and the Maryland State Fire Marshal would get involved, said Bruce Bouch, Fire Marshal's Office spokesman.

Fire departments, he said, can put out any open fire that defies the June 1 to Sept. 1 ban as well, Bouch said.

The ban does not apply to backyard grilling or fires such as campfires.

Bouch urges residents to simply follow the state's guidelines for setting fires, like not burning on windy days, clearing a minimum 10-foot radius around the burn site, as well as following rules for the distance between the fire and other objects on the property.

"Without [local regulation] we're fully dependent on the individual to take the proper safety concerns," Bouch said.

For information on the state's open air burning regulations, go to dnr2.maryland.gov/forests/Pages/fire/firenotes.aspx.

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