Burned: Controlled fire alarms citizens

news-control-burnA controlled burn may include back fires.

Coming exactly a week before the start of fall's wildland fire season, when state officials fear fire outbreaks among dried branches and fallen leaves, an October 8 open burn had several local citizens calling Albemarle Fire and Rescue after smoke wafted over Charlottesville.

It turns out, however, it was simply a controlled burn on 60 acres in North Garden, one that was pre-approved by the Virginia Department of Forestry.

"There ought to be some public service announcement," says Elizabeth Tyler. "This could put an asthmatic in the hospital, or affect older people."

"We're not required to notify anyone other than the local fire departments," says Forestry spokesman John Campbell. "If you alert people, it can cause panic."

To some residents such as Tyler, a little advance warning would have been nice before the scent– which she found to have a "chemical" smell– wafted its way to her home near Fashion Square Mall. She says she made about nine phone calls before discovering that the 60-acre burn was done to rid a previously logged parcel of stumps and smaller trees before reforestation.

news-bonfire-medTorching fallen sticks and limbs in your yard may require a permit if land-clearing was involved.

"This is legitimate," concedes Tyler. "But it's old school to burn stumps." She worries whether herbicides were used in the course of logging and thinks releasing large particulate matter into the air because it's a cost-effective way to get rid of the debris isn't the healthiest plan.

Controlled burns done under the auspices of the Department of Forestry must have a smoke management plan that takes into consideration temperature, wind, and humidity, explains spokesperson Campbell. The burn would not have been permitted the day before on October 7 because it was much windier, he says.

And while Forestry-approved burns do not require burn permits from Albemarle County, citizens attempting a controlled burn after clearing their land may need a county permit.

It's okay to burn downed limbs and sticks without a permit, says Albemarle County Fire and Rescue's Rebecca Morris, but she recommends contacting the department if it's a large pile.


Maybe it's people becoming less adapted to their surroundings rather then the surroundings becoming the problem. Open fires have always existed, they clear land "naturally" and provide the chance for new growth.

Controlled burns should be outlawed period. Too many times I have had to go out on EMS calls about breathing problems for people with respiratory illnesses simply because the smoke was so bad. It pollutes our atmosphere and causes more problems than it solves. This is a nationwide problem. We can't have autos that put out this much pollution why can the government do it? And if it gets away from them then it costs thousands of dollars to put it back under control using up valuable recourses. All to get rid of underbrush. There has to be a better way.

There was so much smoke in the southern part of the city that it was difficult to breathe.

"If you alert people, it can cause panic.” Very odd statement. Did someone yell FIRE in movie theater? These pyromaniacs need to pay attention to wind direction.

I agree with Robert Price. The fires should be outlawed. Oh, it is all so political. The county favors the big burns. The developers love the law the way it is. The smoke in Charlottesville was horrible and no one in the city government cares.