As the air begins to cool and the leaves change color, another aspect of the fall season comes into play -- open burning.
"October is the start of brush fire season," Clay County Emergency Management Director and Lewis Volunteer Fire Department Captain Bryan Husband said. "While there is not an official county ordinance regulating open burning, residents in the county are still subject to the state ordinance."
Husband told The Brazil Times many forms of open burning are not allowed by the state statute, and while he and other emergency response personnel do not encourage or condone the act, they recognize it is the time of year many residents are cleaning up their yards.
"With the leaves falling, we know many people take the time to clean up and maintain their yards and some will decide to burn their leaves," he said. "Small fires are not a big problem as long as the right safety precautions are taken."
He added open burning is an annual occurrence this time of year, and is a common, but not an acceptable practice.
However, Husband advised residents to take the necessary steps for fire safety -- for themselves and neighboring areas -- should they choose to conduct a burn session.
"As fall kicks into gear, the temperatures and humidity go down and the air gets drier, making conditions more conducive for fires to spread," Husband told The Brazil Times. "Before deciding to burn, it is always a good idea to check the weather forecast to check the humidity and especially the wind conditions."
He said when humidity levels are in the 50-percent range or below, the drier conditions present a higher risk for the spread of fires, but winds may cause an even bigger problem.
"Anything more than wind speeds of 5 miles per hour can cause an uncontrolled burn to spread so quickly you can't keep up with it," Husband said. "That is why it is extra important to know the weather conditions before doing any kind of open burning because residents are liable for any damage that may occur if their fire spreads into a neighbor's yard or damages their property."
Other than staying aware of current weather conditions, Husband provided a few other tips for maintaining a safe burning environment, including:
* Don't make the burning area too big. Limiting it to a 3-foot square, away from any buildings or vehicles, makes things easier to control,
* Have a garden hose or a gallon-size water sprayer handy to quickly extinguish any leaves of embers that the wind may blow off the main area, and
* Do not, under any circumstance, burn any trash, mattresses, tires or other combustible/hazardous materials.
"However, I do want to emphasize that open burning of many materials is illegal, but it is imperative to maintain all the safety elements," Husband reiterated. "Having a water source nearby is particularly helpful because it doesn't take much for a fire to expand out in dry conditions, and without it, a small burn can spread to half-an-acre in no time."
Husband added issues with open burning are not just occurring in Clay County, but in all areas.
"I'm sure it happens in all the townships in the counties and in other rural areas," he said. "Some cities, like Brazil, have their own regulations, but the state statute is also in effect and those deciding to do open burning should try to watch the conditions and other safety factors as well."
Alternatives to open burning
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has provided a few suggestions for alternatives to open burning because studies have shown smoke from burning any material, including leaves, contains chemicals that are potentially harmful to the health and well-being of residents.
Some of these suggestions include:
* Start a compost pile -- This safely rids clean yard waste, brush and leaves, and as it breaks down over time, it creates a rich, fertile soil for gardens and flower beds in the Spring,
* Borrow or rent a wood chipper -- Chipping branches and brush creates mulch, which may be used for landscaping projects,
* Recycle household trash and appliances -- Burning trash and/or plastic items release harmful chemicals into the air. Take recyclable items, like plastic, aluminum and glass, to a local recycler or solid waste management center, and
* Properly dispose of construction debris -- Other than clean wood scraps, construction debris should never be burned as many of them are treated with or contain hazardous chemicals. These should be disposed in a safe and proper manner.