If you burn leaves or other debris from your yard or property, one state agency is requiring you to stop doing so for the next four months.

In a news release, the Georgia Forestry Commission announced it is implementing a ban on outdoor burning May 1 through Sept. 1 in 54 Georgia counties (the northern half of the state), including metro Atlanta’s Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton and Paulding.

If an individual is caught burning items outdoors without a permit from or notification to the state, he or she could be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for as long as 12 months, according to Georgia law (OCGA 12-6-90).

“If the fire escapes and we have to respond to suppress it, the person would also be billed all suppression charges we incurred,” Wendy C. Burnett, a commission spokeswoman, said in an email.

During the burn ban period, impacted residents are asked to stop burning yard and land-clearing debris during the hot summer months because smoke can negatively impact the state’s air quality by contributing to high ozone levels. These conditions have been linked to lung and heart disease in human beings.

“The restrictions are required by the state Environmental Protection Division,” Georgia Forestry Commission Protection Chief Frank Sorrells said in the release. “By limiting outdoor burning, fewer chemicals and particle pollutants are released into the air.”

While campfires and barbecues are exempt from the burn ban, the risk of wildfire in Georgia is always an issue. The state has seen an uptick in wildfires in March and April, with 860 wildfires burning nearly 5,500 acres across Georgia. Escaped burning is the leading cause of wildfires in Georgia.

Residents in counties not included in the annual burn ban will continue to be required to secure a burn permit from the commission before conducting any outside burning. Permits can be requested online at gatrees.org or by calling the commission’s local office.

“Georgia’s 25 million acres of forestland serve a giant air purifier,” Tim Lowrimore, the commission’s director, said in the release. “We can help them do their work by recognizing the burn ban and enjoying the many benefits Georgia’s trees and other natural resources give us in summer and all year long.”

For more information about the burn ban or the commission, visit gatrees.org.

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