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Lifting Burn Ban Called Into Question After Brush Fires

Dry, windy conditions have fanned 423 brush fires across the state in recent days. A burn ban was lifted in January even as the state continues to suffer from a record drought.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Crews are still fighting brush fires across the state. The N.C. Division of Forest Resources reported 86 fires Tuesday, consuming more than 567 acres.

Investigators said they believe some of the fires were caused by outdoor burning.

Forest Resources warned people Friday to avoid burning debris over the weekend. The agency and weather officials issued a"red flag warning," but that is just a recommendation for people not to burn outdoors.

“It's basically information, a fire prevention tool,” said Jim Prevette, fire chief for Forest Resources.

The state did not reimpose a formal burning ban, however.

Over the next three days, dry, windy conditions fanned 423 brush fires that burned more than 10,000 acres in the state. That is more than half of what burns in an average year.

In Halifax County, 750 acres have burned since Sunday. High winds helped spread the fires through dry grass and woods.

WRAL asked Prevette Tuesday why a burning ban wasn't issued last weekend.

“By the time we could have got the word out to everybody that was burning, the event would have been over,” he said.

Prevette added that a burning ban is more of a long-term action during a drought. While some of the weekend fires were linked to outdoor burning, he said many were caused by other factors, like downed power lines.

“We're in the middle of the drought. Why don't we have a burning ban on all the time?" WRAL asked.

"You get out into the rural areas. There's a lot of people who do burning,” Prevette said.

Each municipality has its own burning regulations, but on a broad scale, outdoor burning of leaves or stumps is regulated by the state.

Under the current state law, a burn ban impacts everything from campfires, to leaf and debris burning – even controlled burns – that are more than 100 feet from an occupied structure. Fires within 100 feet are regulated by local officials.

Prevette said one of the biggest changes since the burning ban law went into effect in 1981 is growth. Far more homes are vulnerable to brush fires.

Due to dry weather conditions, a statewide ban on all open burning was issued in August. The ban was lifted in early January after rain. Prevette said there was no immediate plans to put the burn ban back in place.

Careless burning of debris accounts for more than 40 percent of the brush fires in North Carolina, more than any other cause, state officials said.



Cullen Browder, Reporter
Richard Adkins, Photographer
Minnie Bridgers, Web Editor

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