A group of Hilton Head Island residents hopes to gather support for their effort to ban the burning of yard debris on the island.
The residents say open burning pollutes the air in surrounding neighborhoods, causes health problems and poses unneeded risk of wildfires.
The group launched a website, www.hhinoburn.com, a couple of weeks ago to educate people about the dangers posed by burning yard debris and to gather names and comments of island residents who support a ban. The group also plans to host a booth April 27 at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Earth Day Celebration.
"We need to let Town Council know that this is not just a small group of people who are concerned about this problem," said Karen Buterbaugh, one of the residents organizing support for the ban.
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On March 5, Hilton Head Island Town Council directed the island's Fire & Rescue Division to crack down on residents who violate the town's existing open burning regulations and evaluate the need for an outright ban.
The division's 2013 strategic plan had originally called for a ban on residential burning of yard waste, but council members disagreed about whether that is needed.
Burning yard debris is allowed on some parts of the island from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. two weeks of every month with a permit issued by the division.
But some supporters of the ban say allowing open burning in one neighborhood affects those around it.
Greg Clements lives in Spanish Point, which does not allow its residents to burn yard waste. He said his neighborhood is thick with smoke that comes from fires in nearby Spanish Wells.
One evening, he said, he watched ashes from a fire in Spanish Wells float across the marsh and over his house.
"With all of the different ways we have to dispose of yard debris on an island as populated as we are, why do something as dangerous as that?" Clements said.
Clements says town leaders should come up with an alternative for residents who can't afford to hire a service to dispose of yard debris.
Some opponents of the ban, including Councilman Marc Grant, have suggested that burning debris is part of the rural heritage many Lowcountry residents grew up with, but Denise Stringer, who supports a ban on open burning, said "there are no rural areas left (on the island)," and the town's stance on burning should reflect that.
Because the tree canopies are intertwined, she said, it doesn't matter if one neighborhood allows burning and another doesn't -- wildfires don't obey property lines.
Stringer said she worries it will take a tragedy on Hilton Head to bring an ordinance. She said the group will speak with Councilman Lee Edwards later this week.
The Fire & Rescue division began enforcing the open burning rules more strictly last summer and even more so after council's recent directive, Chief Lavarn Lucas said.
After being warned, residents violating burn rules can be fined up to $1,092.50. Lucas said he is not aware of any fines being issued since enforcement increased.
The division has made internal changes to better track the number of permits issued, complaints received and warnings issued, among other statistics so it can determine if stricter enforcement is effective, Lucas said.
The division probably will not report back to council with a recommendation on whether or not to ban open burning until 2014, Lucas said.
Beaufort and the town of Port Royal allow open burning of yard waste only four weeks per year -- two in the spring and two in the fall. Bluffton, like Hilton Head, requires a permit to burn; unincorporated Beaufort County does not.
Open burning also has been an issue in Myrtle Beach, where the council approved a ban inside city limits on March 26.
The council passed the ban days after a wildfire destroyed more than 100 homes in nearby Carolina Forest. The S.C. Forestry Commission determined the blaze wasn't the result of a debris fire that got out of control.