Two weeks after snow, ice and wind storms pummeled the Puget Sound area and knocked countless tree branches and debris to the ground, residents are continuing to clean up and some are resorting to burning their storm debris, which is illegal in the state of Washington in accordance with the Washington Clean Air Act.
Enumclaw/Fire District No. 28 Fire Chief Joe Clow clarified that this applies to all residents -- even those who have residential burn permits. "The reason they don't allow storm debris is because it's green and damp and smokes a lot," he said.
Click here to see more information from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency on the health hazards of breathing in smoke.
Those who insist on burning would have to stack the debris, tarp it and let it dry before it can be burned later, he said. Even then, it has to be done in accordance with residential burn permit conditions including that the fire can only burn during daylight hours and the maximum size of the burn pile cannot exceed 10 feet in diameter and four feet in height.
A much better solution and one that is better for air quality, said Clow, is to take advantage of a partnership that Enumclaw/Fire District No. 28 and the Department of Natural Resources has to help residents get rid of their waste.
"We encourage people not to burn it because we don't want them to be piling up the debris in a wooded area -- it creates a fire threat," he said. "We're trying to come up with alternatives."
The department has been cleared to rent a large chipper and is asking residents to bring their brush to dump at fire station No. 2 in Cumberland (35420 Veazie-Cumberland Road) starting Friday, Feb. 10 through Saturday, Feb. 25.
It's also possible that the fire department may set up a second site. The chipper is funded by disaster recovery money and comes at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
Amy Warren, a spokesperson for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency that has partnered with the department to find alternatives for burning, said she has heard "quite a bit" of anecdotal information of people burning their storm debris. "In urban areas, burning is illegal, but even if the burns are legal, we're encouraging people to take advantage of free recycling opportunities," she said.
More information on the legality behind various types of burns are available on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (click here); fines for illegal fires typically start at $2,000, according to the site. The agency also has its own suggestions for how you can deal with your yard waste (click here to read).
Meanwhile, the city of Enumclaw also has set up collection arrangements for residents to avoid burning. (c to learn more.)
And so has King County. (click here for details.)
Clean Air Enforcement Up to Residents
If you see a fire that appears to be illegal, contact the fire department at 360-825-5544 and have a specific address of the suspicious fire ready for the dispatcher, said Clow.
"We don't patrol for smoke because we don't have the time or the staff to do that," he said. "We will respond -- if someone calls in a smoke complaint, the dispatcher will ask for an exact address, and if we don't get an address, the dispatcher refers the call to the on-duty shift captain. The reason this policy is so is that we don't want our guys out chasing smoke plumes where we don't have a good location for them."
Meanwhile, the Enumclaw/Fire District No. 28 department has a revamped website with storm debris information on the front page. Go to www.enumclawfire.com to view the latest news from the department.