ALPENA - Spring is in the air, and with it comes the ritual idea of spring cleaning. The snow is starting to melt and reveal what is left of the leaves and dead grass from fall in yards all around Alpena, leaving residents with the task of cleaning-up. It's a popular time of the year to burn this debris, but there are a few regulations and tips when it comes to lighting those old leaves on fire.
The Department of Environmental Quality defines open burning as the burning of unwanted materials such as paper, trees, brush, leaves, grass and other debris, where smoke and other emissions are released directly into the air without passing through a chimney or stack. Within the Alpena City limits there is an ordinance banning open burning, and open burning is not allowed within 1,400 feet of the city limits because of this ordinance. The city has a limb and tree pickup, and several bagged leaves pickups scheduled every spring to alleviate the issue and get rid of the unwanted debris. Dates for the pickup are posted by the city.
Alpena Township allows open burning, but anyone wishing to burn must have a burn permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources.
"All burning of brush or debris has to be of a natural origin," Alpena Township Fire Department Captain Mark Hall said. "Even though we don't have a burning ban, you still need a burning permit to dispose of natural debris. Anyone burning is also responsible for where the smoke goes."
Permits are available online or on the phone through the Department of Natural Resources, and residents are urged to check with the local fire department to make sure there isn't a burn ordinance in effect. The DNR updates its site and phone service every day as to whether the area is allowed to have open burning. The department doesn't actually issue a permit, but requires that anyone wishing to open burn has to check the area in which they live to see if it is appropriate for an open burn to occur and register with the department.
Safety is the number one concern when open burning, and Alpena City Fire Marshall David Robbins said it's important to pay close attention to weather and other conditions.
Tips for open burning:
* Have a burn permit.
* Always have a rake, shovel or
garden tool handy before starting
any outdoor fire.
* Have water available to help
extinguish the fire.
* Never leave a fire unattended.
* Select a spot with shelter from
* The fire should be at least 10 feet
away from any material or debris that
might catch fire and 30 feet away
from a structure.
* Space above the fire should be free
of overhanging branches.
* Manage the fire and keep it
* When finished, throughly drown
the fire with water.
"If the conditions don't look good, don't take a chance on burning," Robbins said. "Watch the weather, check the wind conditions, ensure the vegetation isn't dry or dying around where the burn will occur, check for healthy vegetation, and call to see if burning is allowed in your area."
Besides keeping track of surrounding conditions, Hall added that early spring is a dangerous time to burn because the grass and vegetation has not had a chance to green.
"The grasses and plants are all dry underneath after the snow has melted," Hall said. "Vegetation may be very dry and very dead, and when it is, it doesn't take much for it to catch on fire. Another thing to be careful of is burning wet leaves, which is very inefficient and just creates a lot of nuisance smoke."
To check for local updates for open burning, or to obtain a burn permit call the DNR burn line at 866-922-2876, or visit their website at www.michigan.gov/burnpermit for more information.
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.