The state Forestry Commission declared a State Forester’s Burning Ban for all South Carolina counties amid the COVID-19 crisis, according to a news release.
The ban went into effect at 6 a.m. Tuesday and bars outdoor burning outside of town/city limits. This includes yard debris burns, forestry, wildlife or agricultural burns (also called prescribed, or controlled, burns), campfires and other kinds of recreational open burning.
State Forester Scott Phillips ordered the ban in the interest of public safety after consulting officials with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“With known coronavirus infections increasing in all 46 counties of the state, we simply cannot continue to allow legal burning under these unprecedented circumstances,” he said in the release. “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.”
Before the SCFC’s announcement, some local governments had already issued burning bans. Outdoor burning bans in the city of Conway and Horry County’s unincorporated areas went into effect last week due to the extreme fire danger as a result of low relative humidity and windy conditions.
Smoke can exacerbate the symptoms of those who have contracted the coronavirus, the Forestry Commission’s release said, and trigger underlying respiratory issues in otherwise unaffected individuals, which could result in symptoms similar to ones COVID-19 is known to cause.
“For infected individuals, breathing smoke could make coronavirus symptoms worse, increasing the risk of hospitalization or death,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, a physician consultant with DHEC, in a statement. “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.”
Officials acknowledge that banning prescribed burning during what is typically the busiest time of year will be tough for land managers throughout 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,” state Forestry Commission Fire Chief Darryl Jones stated. “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 is in effect until further notice.