New regulations on outdoor burning are in effect for unincorporated Beaufort County, but fire officials say they plan to offer an educational campaign before they start enforcing the rules.
The ordinance, which passed Beaufort County Council on Sept. 27, limits open burning to leaves, tree branches and other vegetation. It also states open burning must be 75 feet from any structure or road and requires that fires be started between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Campfires or others started for recreation are not covered.
Open burning also is prohibited when the S.C. Forestry Commission issues a "red-flag alert" to warn of increased potential for wildfires.
Previously, if conditions became dry and dangerous for wildfire -- as they did this past summer -- fire officials could suggest residents in unincorporated areas refrain from burning, but they couldn't bar the practice.
"What we've done is tied our ordinance to that red-flag alert," said Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire Chief Bruce Kline. "When there's a red-flag alert, no burning."
Violators can by punished by a fine of up to $110 or as many as 30 days in jail.
The council began to explore an ordinance after residents complained about smoke and fires burning too close to buildings.
Many municipalities have similar ordinances, but the county had not previously regulated such burning.
"This is going to be something completely new to the unincorporated areas," said Capt. Randy Hunter, spokesman for the Bluffton Township Fire District.
To make residents aware of the rules, fire officials plan to create fliers and pamphlets and run public-service announcements on the County Channel.
Kline said his staff will probably begin enforcing the regulation within a few months.
But even then, don't expect to see firemen driving around your neighborhood looking for smoldering grass clippings.
"We're not going to be going around and patrolling those," Hunter said.
Instead, Kline and Hunter said enforcement will be driven by complaints or incidents that require response from fire departments.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.
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