Burned: Controlled fire alarms citizens
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.
"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.