Statewide burning ban now in effect

COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Forestry Commission declare a State Forester’s Burning Ban for all counties this week.

The ban, which took effect at 6 a.m. Tuesday, prohibits outdoor burning anywhere outside of city or town limits in South Carolina, including:

• yard debris burns;

• forestry, wildlife or agricultural burns (also known as prescribed, or controlled, burns); and

• campfires and other types of recreational open burning.

After consultation with officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, state forester Scott Phillips ordered the statewide burning ban in the interest of public safety amid the current public health threat posed by the COVID-19 virus.

Not only can smoke exacerbate the symptoms of those who have contracted the virus, but it also can trigger underlying respiratory issues in otherwise unaffected individuals, which could result in symptoms similar to those the COVID-19 virus is known to cause.

“For infected individuals, breathing smoke could make coronavirus symptoms worse, increasing the risk of hospitalization or death,” DHEC physician consultant Dr. Brannon Traxler said. “It could also cause people who have not contracted the coronavirus, but who are presenting COVID-19-like symptoms, to seek medical care at a time when medical resources are already stretched thin.”

“With known coronavirus infections increasing in all 46 counties of the state, we simply cannot continue to allow legal burning under these unprecedented circumstances,” Phillips added. “Reducing outdoor burning will also minimize the strain on local fire departments and other first responders who need to remain available for other COVID-19 response activities.”

Agency leadership acknowledged that prohibiting prescribed burning during what is traditionally the busiest time of year will be difficult for land managers in all parts of the state.

“We know how beneficial the practice is for agricultural and forest management, and it is, along with our ongoing fire prevention and education efforts, the best tool we have to reduce both the number and severity of wildfires,” SCFC Fire Chief Darryl Jones said. “But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and the decision to enact this ban really had to be made in the current context.”

The ban will stay in effect until further notice, which will come in the form of an official announcement from the Forestry Commission.