Officials in area communities should consider imposing at least a temporary ban on burning leaves this fall as long as the region continues to experience drought conditions.

According to the Illinois State Climatologist, northern Vermilion County is included in a zone of moderate drought with the rest of the county listed as abnormally dry. Much of west-central Indiana also falls into the abnormally dry category. The problem is widespread. The National Integrated Drought Information System lists almost 10 million Illinois residents as residing in drought or abnormally dry zones.

The relatively dry summer has created a potential for fire problems. A temporary ban — and possibly a permanent ban — on burning leaves would reduce hazards and allow local fire departments to rest a bit easier. The latter is especially important in smaller communities where volunteer fire departments often have difficulty gathering enough responders during daytime work hours.

Danville ordinances include specific guidelines for burning leaves. The city does offer pick-up of yard waste as long as material such as leaves are in special bags, but some residents continue to burn, not only creating a potential fire hazard but also filling their neighborhoods with smoke that can aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma.

If a Danville resident does want to burn leaves, the rules are:

• The burning of only leaves, twigs, branches or limbs of no more than 1 inch in diameter, brush or similar natural vegetation. The burning shall not include trash, refuse, rubbish, garbage, plastic, paper, cardboard, litter or similar household or commercial waste.

• The burning occurs between sunrise and sunset;

• The burning shall not occur on any public street, alley, or sidewalk;

• A responsible person 16 or older shall be in constant attendance;

• Burning in the open shall be at least 50 feet from any structure;

• Burning in an approved container shall be at least 15 feet from any structure;

• Firefighting equipment in the form of a garden hose, buckets of water or extinguishers shall be readily available;

• The burning does not create a visibility hazard on roadways or railways within the city;

• The burning does not become a nuisance or health hazard by reason of smoke, fumes, fly ash, dust, soot or noxious odor;

• The burning occurs when atmospheric conditions will readily dissipate contaminants unless such conditions are likely to create or add to a hazardous situation.

Danville firefighters respond frequently to reports of illegal fires, putting firefighters at risk and increasing the wear and tear on equipment. A temporary ban also would help reduce those issues.

The Illinois State Climatologist predicts Illinois will experience a La Nina winter this year, with the state to see more precipitation that usual. If that comes to pass, the fire hazard caused by dry conditions will be significantly reduced by spring.

For now, however, officials should do all they can to reduce the potential for troublesome fires in their communities and approve a temporary ban on burning leaves this fall.

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