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Chatham puts damper on luminarias

Posted December 14, 2007
Updated November 18, 2008

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— Chatham County officials decided to follow in the footsteps of state officials and banned the burning of luminarias within 100 feet of occupied dwellings because of extreme dryness and fire danger.

On Oct. 15, the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources banned open flames more than 100 feet from an occupied building. That includes placing luminarias that far away from houses.

Local fire marshals must decide whether it is legal to burn luminarias – lighted candles placed in paper bags – within the 100-foot zone.

Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender said he decided to ban luminarias due to fire safety fears.

“Any outdoor fires that get out of control could cause extensive damage, so we are taking the steps needed to protect the public and property," Bender said. "We regret that this means not having luminaries during the holidays, but the State Division of Forest Resources has concerns about the damage these can cause to drought-stricken communities."

Burning leaves and small yard debris is still permitted within 100 feet of buildings, but only if someone watches the fire the entire time and is able to put it out quickly. That's often not the case with luminarias, Bender said.

"They are often left to burn unattended and expose surrounding homes and communities to major fire hazards," he said. "Residents may not have the supplies on hand to put out a grass fire if just one luminary catches fire and gets out of control."

Raleigh, Durham and Cary have discouraged the use of luminarias but have not issued an outright ban.

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