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To burn or not to burn

The residential burning season is just around the corner, slated to run from March 15 to October 15.

Residential burning is only allowed in the unincorporated areas of Yakima county. It is strictly prohibited in all of the cities and designated urban growth areas.

That's according to Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority's Dave Caprile, quoting provisions of the state clean air act.

"The (urban growth area) burn ban is specific to residential and land clearing burning and is pursuant to the state clean air act...and Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority regulation 1," explained Caprile.

The city of Sunnyside does have an ordinance on the books allowing residents within city limits to burn windblown tumbleweeds only. But, Caprile said, this is in direct conflict with regulation 1 of the clean air authority.

Caprile said that residential permits are required for county residents wishing to burn vegetation, like tree limbs and leaves.

Burning garbage, he said, is illegal and has been for quite some time. And, he added, "Using burn barrels is illegal." Caprile explained that garbage contains many dangerous materials, like different types of plastic, that can produce carcinogens or toxic fumes.

There's a significant difference between agricultural burning and residential burning. Agricultural burning is allowed year round.

"Agriculturists have a growing season and it isn't always easy for them to burn during (a restricted period of time)," Caprile said, adding that state regulations allow for year-round agricultural burning.

Residential burn permits will increase this year to $37, up from last year when a permit was $20. One residential burn permit covers the March 15 through Oct. 15 season.

Agricultural burn permit costs vary because it is based on acreage.

Caprile said that those who plan to burn, whether it's agricultural or residential, must call the clean air authority to ensure there is no burn ban in place. Checking the clean air authority's website is also an option.

Burn bans are determined by air quality monitors, which monitor particulates. Weather conditions are also a factor.

When the clean air authority receives complaints of illegal burning, they investigate and then provide literature and information regarding the laws. "If we have to come back, we would probably have to issue a penalty," he said.

Caprile said that in December 2006, federal standards for clean air changed, significantly lowering the allowable rate of particulates in the air than previously. As a result, many more burn bans have been declared in the past year.

Caprile said that it's important to note that air quality standards are set on a federal level.

If residents don't do their part in complying with burn bans, Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority is at risk of being found "out of compliance" with the federal standard. This happens when there are three or more occasions over the course of a year where the 24-hour average of particulate content in the air exceeds federal standards for the course of 24-hours.

If that happens, he says, "It will be a lot less enjoyable in the winter time."

During the winter, there are two types of burn bans. A stage one burn ban prohibits the use of uncertified wood stoves or fireplaces, unless they are the only source of heat for a home. A stage two burn ban prohibits the use of certified wood stoves, pellet stoves or fireplace inserts altogether, unless, again, it's the only source of heat for a home.

"It's not going to be fun if we have to impose a lot more restrictions."

For more information, call the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority at 509-834-2050 or visit their website at www.co.yakima.wa.us/cleanair/.

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