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Firefighters reiterate rules on burning yard debris

ADDISON COUNTY — April showers bring May flowers, but April is also a month during which homeowners seek to rid their yards of debris left by the winter. And Addison County fire officials are warning residents to think twice before torching any fallen branches, leaves or twigs.
Bill Sinks, president of the Addison County Firefighters’ Association, noted property owners must check with their local fire warden(s) and get an official OK — in many cases, a written permit — before setting fire to their lawn debris.
Wet weather this week broke what had been a very dry spring, creating prime conditions for at least two fast moving brush fires — including one in Cornwall — that ate up dozens of acres of grass and brush. Thanks to the efforts of local firefighters, no homes or lives have been lost as a result of fires this spring, and authorities want to keep it that way.
Sinks, who is also the Weybridge fire chief, urged county residents to consult their local fire wardens about where, when and how to dispose of yard waste.
He and other fire officials stressed that wardens can only give permission to burn branches, leaves and clean wood. Pressure-treated, painted or stained wood must be hauled off to the county transfer station or local landfill.
“If you are in doubt, have your fire warden check out what you’re trying to burn,” Sinks said.
Some communities have designated areas for people to bring yard waste they don’t want to burn. In Vergennes, for example, that spot is behind the city’s wastewater treatment facility off Canal Street. Jim Larrow, Vergennes deputy fire chief, said residents can drop off their yard waste Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“The only time a burn permit is not required is when there is snow on the ground,” Larrow cautioned.
Larrow and Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur are the city fire wardens and can give permission over the phone to people seeking burn permits.
“I call dispatch and let them know I have given out a burn permit,” Larrow said.
He cautioned people seeking such permits must do so minutes — not hours or days — before they intend on setting their yard waste ablaze. That’s because weather conditions can change quickly, Larrow said.
The town of Bristol also requires people to seek permission from its fire warden, Ed Shepard, before setting a yard waste fire, noted town Administrator Bill Bryant.
Folks seeking to burn yard waste in Middlebury are out of luck until the fall. That’s because the town has a burn ordinance that prohibits open burning from the third week in April until Nov. 1. So people must either set their debris aside, take it to the transfer station or find a way to compost it. Violators of the ordinance risk fines.
“A lot of it has to due with the density of the population,” Middlebury Fire Chief Rick Cole said of the burn law, adding that spring is a time when residents start to open their windows, and some people suffer health repercussions from breathing in smoke.
“There are a lot more allergies than there used to be,” Cole said.
Middlebury residents have grown accustomed to the burn ban and have been able to get rid of yard waste during the months when fires are legal, according to Cole.
“There should be no excuse this year, we have had a pretty open winter,” Cole said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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