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York, Lancaster, other S.C. fire officials say outdoor burning is a bad idea. Here’s why.

Outdoor burning is now discouraged in South Carolina until weather conditions change.
Outdoor burning is now discouraged in South Carolina until weather conditions change. KRT

Most fire officials aren’t demanding locals stop burning in their yards. But they’re asking nicely.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission issued a statewide Red Flag Fire Alert, likely to last at least through the weekend. The alert isn’t a burn ban. It instead discourages outdoor burning given a high risk of sparking wildfire.

“We’re going to see very favorable conditions for wildfire ignitions over the next few days, particularly with the relative humidity values, which will remain low at least until the weekend,” said Darryl Jones, state forestry commission fire chief.

Weather statewide for the next several days show low humidity and higher drought conditions. High heat in recent days has the ground and plants dry.

The red flag alert also can trigger local and county laws restricting outdoor fires.

“The Red Flag warning is one of the mechanisms we use to determine if we want to do a county ban,” said Darren Player, Lancaster County Emergency Management director. “We do try to stay away from those as much as possible because No. 1, they’re hard to enforce. No. 2, the public generally responds pretty well if we get the information out that it’s not advisable to burn.”

In Fort Mill, for instance, the town fire marshal has decided to ban outdoor burning. It includes recreational and agricultural burning.

Lancaster County chose not to go with a ban this time, but is asking for cooperation.

“It is not advisable to burn outdoors,” Player said.

York County doesn’t yet have any additional restrictions in place.

“It affects all of York County except for municipalities (which set their own rules),” said Ricky Wilson, senior fire prevention technician for the county. “We advise all people to postpone burning because of the dry weather. It’s not really a ban. It’s just an advisory.”

Grass is drying out, he said, as is the top layer of ground cover in much of the area. When embers can carry a quarter of a mile, Wilson said, it’s important for everyone to be cautious. The hot weather also could put strain on firefighters having to deal with any brush or grass fires that may occur.

Wilson isn’t sure how long the advisory will last, but figures a common sense approach will do.

“It’s going to all depend on when we get sufficient rainfall from thunderstorms, that type of thing,” he said. “We’re just asking people to postpone burning until we get sufficient rain that kind of takes care of the dryness.”

Player said it’s an unlikely ally to fire prevention — heat — that could help. For many, it simply may be too hot to burn anything this weekend.

“We also have the advantage right now that it’s almost 100 degrees outside, and anybody who’s not (burning) for a living tends to not be out there doing it,” Player said.

The recommendations are different for residents, compared to commercial land clearing or other groups permitted to burn.

“There’s a whole different set of statutes that apply to them at the state level,” Player said.

In addition to burning yard debris, there are others the forestry commission recommends take special care. That list includes anyone working on rail lines or heavy equipment that can cause sparks near woodlands. Cigarettes are another concern.

Forestry commission fire response teams will continue to monitor conditions through the weekend.

High heat and dry conditions also have a South Carolina Drought Response Committee meeting set for June 6. The group will evaluate drought conditions statewide and reevaluate statuses on a county-to-county basis.

York, Lancaster and Chester counties all have normal conditions at present, not yet at any stage of drought.

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