Tuesday March 13, 2012

Several Berkshire County fire officials say the mild, dry weather has led to a spike in outdoor burn permits.

"I had 31 Saturday and 24 on Sunday," said Great Barr ington Fire Chief Harry Jenn ings. "This time of year, I can push 100 a day, especially on the weekends."

Stockbridge Fire Chief Chuck Cardillo said Monday was probably the "busiest day so far" for burn permit requests.

"The good weather has been ideal for burning," Cardillo said.

Since early spring-like weather is driving an increase in permits, authorities are urging safety. There are rules to follow for outdoor burning of brush, twigs and branches.

Massachusetts residents have to obtain a burning permit each day they plan to burn by calling their city or town fire department. Per mits are available from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with open fires allowed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Dep artment of Envi ronmental Pro tection regulations. The outdoor burning season, which opened Jan. 15, ends on May 1.

In addition, residents of Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Beck et, Lanesborough, Rich mond and Peru can access a permit online at www.bcburnpermits.com.

While the forecast for showers today will likely put a damper on outdoor burning, sunshine and temperatures near 60 degrees Wednesday and Thursday could spark another high volume of burning permit requests.

"Now we have to start watching the conditions as we start to dry out," said Stephen Traver, deputy fire chief in Richmond.

If it becomes too dry and/or if wind becomes an issue, state and local fire officials can halt outdoor burns -- even at a moment's notice -- until the fire danger passes.

"If the wind suddenly picks up, permits can be rescinded immediately, but common sense should rule the day," said Lt. Robert Sammons, head of the Pittsfield Fire Department's Inspection Bureau.

Aside from common sense, homeowners must adhere to state regulations governing outdoor burning. The rules include:

-- Burn only brush. No leaves, grass, hay, stumps, construction debris or any other materials can be tossed onto the fire.

-- A garden hose or other appropriate means to extinguish the fire must be ready at all times.

-- All open burning must be at least 75 feet from a building or structures.

-- Never leave a brush fire unattended.

Local fire officials say ignoring the last two regulations can often lead to a house or nearby field catching fire.

"If you think the fire is getting out of control, don't hesitate to call [911] for help," Sammons said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.