Leaves have begun swirling to the ground in municipalities throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, marking the beginning of autumn - the season where some residents violate the states' open-burning laws.
While it may be tempting for those who live in cities and villages to rake leaves into a pile and light a match to get rid of them all, it's also illegal, said Dina Pierce, spokesman for the Ohio EPA.
Open burning is not permitted within the boundaries of any municipal corporation, meaning within the limits of any city or village, without prior written approval from the Ohio EPA - a process that can take up to two weeks.
Leaves cannot be burned in Michigan municipalities that have 7,500 or more people, unless allowed by local ordinance. Trees, logs, brush, and stumps cannot be burned within 1,400 feet of an incorporated city or village, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said.
Penalties vary, based on township ordinances.
Since this time last year, about 100 people have asked the Ohio EPA for open-burning permission, and nearly all those requests were granted, Ms. Pierce said. Even with permission from the Ohio EPA, she said residents should check local laws governing open burning because they can be more strict than the state.
The Ohio EPA defines open burning as any time a fire is lit outdoors without a chimney or stack, whether it be in burn barrels or open piles.
It's illegal in municipalities because of the potential cost to a person's home, health, neighbors, and environment. Certain materials can cause air pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, and mercury.
Leaves and other plant material aren't safe to burn either because when on fire, millions of spores are released into the air, causing problems for those who have allergies.
Open burning also cannot take place within 1,000 feet of a municipality with a population of under 10,000, or within one mile of a municipality with a population of more than 10,000.
Ms. Pierce said the agency most often gets reports of illegal open burning in the fall and the spring when residents are working to clear leaves, brush, and other yard waste from their properties.
Since January, the illegal activity has been reported more than 100 times. That means the agency is on track to receive its average of 125 to 150 complaints a year, she said.
In northwest Ohio, the Ohio EPA gets the most complaints of people violating the open-burning laws in Sandusky, Allen, and Erie counties. Those counties are closely followed by Wood, Ottawa, and Seneca counties.
People convicted of breaking the state's open-burning regulations can be fined up to $25,000 per day for each violation.
"We usually don't get repeat offenders," Ms. Pierce said. "A lot of times people just don't know. The more we can publicize our rules, hopefully the fewer incidents we will have."
Under Ohio law, certain materials, including garbage, dead animals, demolition debris, and those containing rubber, grease, and asphalt, may not be burned anywhere in the state at any time.
"Our rules pertain more to public health issues from toxic fumes from debris," Ms. Pierce said. "That's why we have rules about not burning tires and certain construction debris or garbage."
To help prevent wildfires, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry prohibits outdoor burning in rural areas between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during March, April, May, October, and November, which are typically dry months.
"It's when the wildfire risk is the highest," said Jane Beathard, ODNR spokesman. "There's low humidity, the winds are generally right, and there's a lot of what they call fuel - the highly flammable underbrush on the ground."
She said on average, about 800 wildfires occur each year in Ohio, and most of them are the result of human carelessness.
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