Orcas sparks with trash fire

Illegal burning gets out of hand on the island


Editor, Islands’ Sounder

If it doesn’t grow in the ground, it can’t be burned.

It’s a rule that San Juan County Deputy Fire Marshal Paul Turner has had to enforce lately after discovering several cases of illegal burning. Local residents have been burning without a permit and in some instances, setting fire to garbage, fiberglass items, and paper products.

“I have a sneaking suspicion this will continue with the high cost of the dump fees,” Turner said. “People think that if they burn at night, they won’t get caught.”Orcas Fire responded to an “obnoxious burning” smell off Enchanted Forest Road at 11 p.m.

in early April. Responders drove up every driveway until they found the culprit: a 16-foot boat engulfed in flames.“This is the kind of stuff people are burning,” Turner said.

“If a fire doesn’t smell like a campfire, there’s junk in it.”Turner has issued four citations for illegal burning on Orcas since April.

Last year at this time, that number was zero. The fine for burning without a permit is $250. The fine for burning unapproved materials is $500. Both require a court appearance.Brian Rader, the Pollution Prevention Specialist for San Juan County, says he often sees burn piles on construction sites.

“Lots of contractors have strict rules on their job sites, but that being said, I see a lot of job sites with treated wood and plywood on their burn piles,” Rader said. “… It’s easy for the inappropriate stuff to fall into that burn pile.”Burning plywood and pressure-treated wood can release chrome, arsenic, and formaldehyde, among other harmful chemicals. Rader says breathing the fumes can cause cancer, pulmonary, liver, and kidney disease, and skin damage.

Builders on San Juan Island are faced with a big hurdle: the transfer station no longer accepts the 30-cubic yard drop box containers that many contractors use. To dispose of large quantities of building waste, San Juan Sanitation charges for pick-up, travel time, and ferry fees to truck the containers over to Orcas.

“The burning problem is a solid waste problem,” Rader said. “Contractors are facing $335 per ton disposal costs.”

According to the county, the solid waste department is collecting 33 percent less this quarter than last year. In the first quarter of 2010 (Jan-March), 2,093 tons of garbage was collected. This year, that number is 1,402. From 2008 to 2009, the department saw a 20 percent drop in tonnage; it was the same story for 2009-10. To burn or not to burnUnless there is a burn ban, the Fire Marshal allows recreational fires of two feet in diameter during any time of the year.The open burning season is October 1 through June 30.

For residential burn piles, which are 10 x 10 feet or less, a $15 permit is required. Commercial permits are needed for larger burns (40 by 40 feet); they are $225 and valid for 30 days. Heavy equipment – such as an excavator – is required to be on scene.

Permits can be obtained online at www.sjcfiremarshal.org or at any of the fire departments. Anyone living within an Urban Growth Area cannot have a residential burn pile. Only a two-foot recreational fire is permitted.

According to the Washington Clean Air Act of 1970, only natural vegetation may be burned. The following materials are not allowed: garbage, dead animals, petroleum products, paints, plastics, paper (other than what is necessary to start a fire), cardboard, treated wood, construction/demolition debris, metal, or any substance that releases toxic emissions, dense smoke, or obnoxious odors when burned.

“You can’t take cardboard boxes, light them on fire, and put wood on top,” Turner said. “You can’t burn anything except natural vegetation.”