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Burn ban

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Christine Tailer

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist 

It seems that no sooner do we light our burn pile and step back to watch our woody scraps go up in smoke, then we are adding to it once again and watching it grow. It really is a very hungry thing, and simply does not wish to lie bare for very long, so we oblige and gather more wood scraps and feed it.

With multiple buildings on the farm, it seems that we are always adding something here and building something else over there. Perhaps one of the barns or shops needs additional shelving, or maybe we should add another window or two to let in more light, and yes, we do have several a variety of out buildings beside out two barns. There is Greg's machine shop, filled wall to wall with his metal working tools, that range from forge and anvil to lathe and milling machine. Then there is the mechanic shop, where we work on our vehicles and tractors, and of course it is chock full of the requisite tools that go with our mechanical projects, and then, there is my recently completed wood shop, lined with all sorts of woodworking tools.

We have learned as we work in each of these various buildings, and move from one machine to the next, reaching first for this tool, and then for that one, that at there is often a far more efficient way of setting things out. This leads us to build still more shelving, or even whole new additions onto the original structure, and so the scrap wood accumulates, and our hungry burn pile grows ever fatter.

Our burn pile sits in the middle of the upper field in a clear spot between the chicken coop, herb bed, and windmill tower. It’s curious, but I find great joy in loading the back of our four-wheel drive green machine with our accumulated scraps of lumber, and haling them out to the pile. There, I carefully set each piece in its proper burn pile place. 

On occasion, I might even add a broken wooden chair, a battered wooden chest, or even an old wooden ladder. I believe that aesthetics really are paramount as I add to the pile, especially when considering that we typically live with it for months before we actually set it on fire. We do, however, place each new addition onto the pile with an eye to efficient burning, having learned that a teepee shaped structure burns the best. We watch as the pile grows ever larger, but we also know to keep a careful watch on the calendar, because yes, Ohio has a burn ban law.

Ohio Revised Code Section 1503.18 prohibits open burning in unincorporated, rural areas for three months every spring and two months every fall. Open burning is defined by Ohio Department of Natural Resources as being any outside fire that does not have chimney stack. March 1 marked the actual start of our spring burn ban season, but even though we are now in the banned period, open burning is still allowed between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. This might seem odd, but there is reason behind the statute’s apparent madness. The legislators reasoned that the daylight hours are more likely to be windy, and that the wind would not only feed the flames, but enable a fire to escape its bounds and spread, and grow into a damaging wild fire. It is also during the spring and fall, when the countryside is adorned with dry leaves lying scattered across the forest floor and along the edges of country roads and farm fields. These leaves are obviously prime fodder for a burn pile’s windblown spark.

Then, in case any incentive is needed to consider compliance with Ohio’s burn ban law, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to issue hefty fines for open burn violations. These fines can go up to $1,000 a day for each offending burn. Typically, however, the EPA issues warnings to first-time offenders and educates them on the law, but that is not all. Third-degree misdemeanor charges could be filed by the local prosecutor, and these charges could result in a fine of up to $500, 60 days incarceration, followed by court ordered probation. Simply put, it is clearly best to comply with the burn ban.  

And now, back to our hungry burn pile. The days slipped by, and our conical stack of scrap lumber was not as large as piles in the past. It stood just over three feet tall. Greg and I have been recently spending our days of late, building a walking path through the hillside woods. We’ve even placed a bench swing midway along the path. Then, the last few days of February the weather was really very windy, and it rained. Not prime burn weather, so, Greg and I decided to give the burn pile a reprieve. We will happily feed it wood scraps for the next three months, and then we will wait for a late spring day in early June, when we can stand by the fire, square nosed shovel and hard rake in hand, and tend it as it burns down to the ground.  

Smokey the Bear might not live in our neck of the woods, but his words ring true. Only we can prevent wildfires. 

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in Ohio south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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