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Burn permit terms limited in county

Island County will keep a closer eye on legal outdoor burning in 2008.

On Dec. 24, the commissioners approved a resolution that limits the duration of residential outdoor burn permits to seven days, down from the previous 14 days. The cost of a permit remains at $20.

Land clearing burning permits will cost $50 and also be limited to seven days’ duration.

The action was taken in cooperation with the Northwest Clean Air Authority and was not meant to increase county revenue. The resolution states that permit fees are set by rule to not exceed a level necessary to recover the costs of administering and enforcing the program.

Fred Wefer, fire warden for Island and Skagit counties, said the action was an effort to keep a closer eye on outdoor burning. “We’re trying to keep better control of it, that’s the main reason,” he said Thursday in Oak Harbor.

The rules affect only areas controlled by the county. Burning is not allowed within city limits or urban growth areas. The burn ban in urban growth areas took effect in 2007.

With Island County’s growing population, efforts continue to curb complaints about outdoor burning, particularly small residential fires. Permits are not needed for fires that measure 4 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet or less.

The complaints generally result from the dense smoke that comes from burning wet material. “Make sure it’s dry,” Wefer said, acknowledging that it can be a difficult chore in wet weather. “Put a tarp over it or something.”

Wefer has to physically inspect a proposed burn site before a permit can be issued. That keeps him busy, as he covers the entire two-county area by himself. “My office is right outside the door with four tires on it,” he said, referring to his pickup truck. “I’m a very busy guy. I issued 900 permits last year in Skagit and Camano and Whidbey islands.”

His only relief comes during summer burn ban periods, but even then he’s involved with fires. He switches to DNR duties, where he supervises crews battling forest fires, investigates fires and preaches prevention.

He finds he’s spending more time with the DNR every summer as burn bans lengthen along with the fire season. “It’s getting dryer every year,” he said. “More snow in the winter and dryer in the summer.”

Fire permits can be obtained by contacting Wefer. His Island County number is 679-7343 or email fredw@co.skagit.wa.us. For details on burning regulations, including allowable materials to burn, visit www.nwcleanair.org/.

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