County passes open burn ordinance

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A new ordinance in the county will give farmers and residents more flexible hours for open burning and sets penalties for those who may be a danger to the public.

Valencia County commissioners unanimously approved an open burning ordinance at their Jan. 15 meeting that was proposed by Fire Chief Steven Gonzales that will allow burning one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, going beyond the previous hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The ordinance takes effect 30 days after approval.

"I appreciate the longer hours," Commission Chairman Charles Eaton told Gonzales. "The 4 p.m. time was way too early, especially in the summer."

The county's burn permit process will remain unchanged, Gonzales told commissioners. A burn day will be declared based on weather patterns and forecasts from the night before, the chief said.

"If a day is declared a burn day, the person wanting to burn needs to call the dispatch non-emergency number or the fire administration offices," Gonzales said.

The person burning is required to leave a name, contact number and specific location of the burn, he said. The non-emergency number for dispatch is 865-2039 and fire administration is 866-2040.

The new ordinance also regulates what people can and cannot burn. According to the ordinance, rubbish or garbage, oil waste, treated or painted wood, natural wood exceeding six inches in diameter or longer than four feet in length, asphalt, plastic and rubber can't be burned. The use of burn barrels will also not be allowed.

Open burning of leaves, weeds, brush, stumps, clean wood and other vegetative debris is allowed under the ordinance. Outdoor campfires and small bonfires for cooking, ceremonies or recreation are allowed, provided the fire is confined and under control.

Under the new ordinance, the fire chief can impose a burn ban if he deems that danger of forest, grass or structure fires are found to be high.

The penalty for violations is a fine of not more than $300, 90 days in jail or both.

Last week, the Belen City Council held a public hearing on amendments to it's own open burning ordinance. Belen Fire Chief Manny Garcia has been working with Gonzales with regard to the county's new ordinance and said he felt it would be best to have similar restrictions as well.

Along with allowing residents to burn an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, the proposed amendments to the Belen ordinance also allows burn permits to be valid for 30 days, rather than the current 10 days.

Unlike the county, residents within the city must obtain a burn permit, which is free, from the fire department. Residents will still be responsible in finding out if it's been deemed a burn day or not by calling dispatch.

Along with restrictions on burning materials such as treated or painted wood, asphalt, garbage, plastic and rubber products, the proposed amended ordinance also would restrict the burning of used oil filters, tar or tar paper, insulated wire, railroad ties, batteries, motor vehicle bodies or interiors, pathogenic waste or asbestos.

No burning shall take place during periods when the fire chief or the National Weather Service has issued a burn ban such as a "red flag warning" or a "fire weather watch."

If the city council approves the amendments to the ordinance, it will take effect 30 days after it's enacted.

(Editor Clara Garcia contributed to this report.)


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