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North Carolina officials encourage people to use caution when disposing of storm debris

Posted Friday, April 22, 2011

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Raleigh, NC - Following the destruction of last weekend’s tornadoes, many North Carolina residents are faced with the disposal of storm-related debris. State environmental officials urge landowners to consider personal safety and the environment when choosing disposal options for this debris.

Officials with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources remind landowners who might choose to burn debris that North Carolina’s spring wildfire season lasts until mid-May. Local county forest rangers are available to offer technical advice and explain the best options to help landowners maximize the safety to people, property and the forest.

For people who choose to burn debris, the following tips should help protect property and prevent wildfires:

• Make sure you have a valid permit. You can obtain a burning permit at any NCDFR office or permitting agent or online at

• Check with local officials - outside burning may be prohibited, or may only be permitted during specified hours.

• Check the weather - don't burn on dry, windy days.

• Homeowners can burn yard trimmings - excluding stumps and logs more than six inches in diameter - if it's allowed under local ordinances, no public pickup is available and it doesn't cause a public nuisance.

• Local fire officials can recommend a safe way for burning debris. Don't pile it on the ground, it should be placed in a cleared area, away from overhead branches and wires in a screened receptacle.

• Debris should not be accumulated for several days and then ignited. It becomes compacted and wet, increasing the air pollution, and makes the fire burn longer, requiring more watching.

• Consider the alternatives to burning. Some types of debris, such as leaves, grass and stubble, may be of more value if they are not burned.

• Be sure you are fully prepared before burning. To control the fire you will need a hose, bucket and a shovel for tossing dirt on the fire.

• Never use kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids to speed debris burning.

• Stay with your fire until it is completely out.

• Avoid initiating a burn when the forecast includes an Air Quality Action Day Code “Orange” or above.

Studies have shown that taking these and other measures can greatly reduce wildfires and the loss of property associated with them.

Limit open burning as much as possible because the smoke from outdoor fires can cause serious health problems and pollute the air. For example, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that backyard burning of trash from a family of four can emit as much of some pollutants, such as dioxin and furan, as a well-controlled municipal incinerator serving tens of thousands of households. In particular, health hazards arise from burning: demolition debris and building materials, including lumber; asphalt shingles and heavy oils; wire, plastics and other synthetic materials; garbage, paper and cardboard; tires and other rubber products; paints, and household and agricultural chemicals.

Please keep in mind that improper or unpermitted storage, disposal or burning of hazardous waste is strictly prohibited. Some of the most common hazardous wastes are:

• Batteries, such as nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) and small sealed lead-acid batteries, which are found in many common items, including electronic equipment, cell phones, portable computers, and emergency backup lighting.

• Agricultural pesticides that have been recalled or banned from use, are obsolete, have become damaged, or are no longer needed due to changes in cropping patterns or other factors. They often are stored for long periods of time in sheds or barns.

• Thermostats, which can contain as much as 3 grams of liquid mercury and are located in almost any building, including commercial, industrial, agricultural, community and household buildings.

• Lamps, which typically contain mercury and sometimes lead, and are found in businesses and households. Examples include fluorescent, high-intensity discharge (HID), neon, mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps.

• Used oil.

• Scrap metal.

• Electronic waste such as cathode ray tubes contained in computer monitors and televisions.

• Lead-based paint.

For more information on preventing wildfires, go to, or contact Brian Haines, public information officer with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources, at (919) 218-9728.

For more information on proper disposal of hazardous wastes, go here or contact Cathy Akroyd, public information officer with the N.C. Division of Waste Management, at (919) 508-8438.

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