Hilton Head Island's Town Council is poised to ban open burning in the approximately 30 percent of the island where it is allowed, but one thing won't change if the new rules become law: Enforcement will play a major role.
The town's fire chief, Lavarn Lucas, asked for the ban earlier this year, saying in part that the rules requiring a permit and limiting burning to two weeks of the month were routinely violated.
Lucas said the department could enforce the rules more aggressively, but it would put officers in difficult and potentially dangerous situations in disputes with property owners.
He also pointed to health hazards from the smoke the fires generated and the potential for fires to get out of control.
In March, council members asked him to step up enforcement. Twenty-one of the 26 warnings issued this year have come since then.
But no one should think that smoke will never rise again over the island under the proposed ordinance. It would still allow under certain circumstances campfires, outdoor cooking, outdoor fireplaces, recreational fires in approved containers, some bonfires and the burning of storm debris.
If enforcement was difficult or took up too much time under the old rules, there's little in the proposed ordinance to indicate that would change. Stopping long-standing practices in the native islander community -- the area of the island mostly affected -- won't be easy and won't be done without enforcement.
Certainly, some material being burned could be composted if hauling it away is a problem, and some material -- old tires, for example -- just shouldn't be burned.
Whatever rules the town ends up with, making sure people follow them will continue to be a big job. The town would do just as well to enforce the existing rules.