"In unincorporated Bartow County, that's anyone that lives outside of a city limits, the only legal thing to burn is yard waste," Cox said. "That has to be limbs, leaves or natural vegetation. These piles have to be no larger than 6 feet by 6 feet, someone must be present with the fire at all times and a form of extinguishment, whether it be a fire extinguisher or water hose, must be nearby."
No other items may be burned according to state and federal laws, including paper.
"Nothing that is manufactured, milled or treated in any way can be burned," Cox said, citing Environmental Protection Division regulations regarding air quality. "If they're burning that, they are in violation of the solid waste laws for improperly disposing solid waste and EPD laws. EPD fines can start at $25,000."
Anyone found to be burning items illegally are first given a warning and then further action is taken depending on what is being burned and laws set forth in Code Enforcement.
"We have the capabilities to determine how many times we've been to this location," Cox said. "If we've been there before, your mulligan's over."
Following the 2011 tornado that damaged part of the county, the fire department encountered issues with residents burning construction items and even their homes.
"People wanted to burn damaged structures and pieces of damaged structure," Cox said. "They cannot do it. We have people say, 'It's my house, I'll do it anyway.' We give them that warning and once we give them that verbiage of 'You cannot do this' and they do it anyway -- or we go out and put it out and they start it back up -- we have to notify EPD. We notify our local EPD office and they have told us if we went out and explained it to them, that's their warning.
"The next time we show up there isn't going to be a, 'Well, I didn't know.' With as much information and quick way things can go out now, ignorance is no longer a defense in the United States or the world. Google it and you know what you're supposed to do."
Although vegetation burns are allowed during the day, exceptions and limitations exist. A time frame is in place that Cox described as being only during full daylight hours and ending before the sun begins to set. For detailed times for various areas as well as further information, call 1-877-652-2876 or your local county or city fire station. Violating the time codes can cause issues and result in a visit from firefighters.
"That's where the complaints come in because in the evening as the sun goes down the air cools and that sinking air will push that smoke to the ground which in turn will start giving people that have breathing and visual problems [issues]," Cox said. "It doesn't take that much smoke to impair vision. There are regulations on how far it has to be off the road. Burn piles must be 100 feet from any structure or house and 150 feet from any roadway."
If all rules are followed, Cox said the burn pile should not give off too much smoke. However, even if all rules are followed perfectly and the smoke interferes with the roadway, the person conducting the burn would be held liable for any accidents that occur.
As an explanation for assuming responsibility for events caused by a controlled burn, Cox referenced the January pile-up on Interstate 75 in Florida that killed several people.
"That was a control burn and [the people who were burning] will be held accountable for the crash," Cox said.
Also, if any property is damaged, the resident burning wildlife will be held accountable for repairs, even if the damage is caused to their own residence, Cox said, as insurance companies will cite a lack of following guidelines.
"If the fire gets out of control and gets on someone else's property, [the person burning items] can be held liable not only for the damages to the adjacent property but also the cost of extinguishment of the fire from the state," Cox said.
Although the county has recently named Cox as their first fire marshal, he reminds residents that a warning against illegal burns is not new.
"These aren't new laws. That's one reason why you'll see us [and] the state and federal government really tighten down on it," Cox said. "These laws have been in effect for years now. What is legal all the time now, is campfire cooking/recreational fire."
Recreational fires, typically used during camping or for cooking, are allowed to be held at any time as long as the state or local departments have not issued a "no burn" due to extreme fire conditions such as dry weather or high winds.
"These are legal any time as long as there's someone with them," Cox said, noting that the campfires can be no larger than 3 feet across and 3 feet high. "As long as someone is with it, and as long as it's not a nuisance to their neighbor, [they are permitted]. If we get a complaint call, we have to ask you to extinguish the fire under Georgia law."
Inside the city limits of Cartersville, however, Hathaway said no burning is allowed, except the recreational fires.
"There is no outside burning in city limits," Hathaway said. "Only commercial and land clearing permits are allowed and they have certain rules to follow. We do allow recreational fires."
Exceptions and specific rules are in place for commercial, agricultural and land clearing burns. Agricultural rules vary on topics such as the size of burn piles. As with residential homeowners, only natural flora may be burned. For specific rules, agricultural businesses should call the local Georgia Forestry office at 770-387-3750.
"Basically, if it's not vegetation, you can't burn it," Cox said. "You can't haul it from somewhere else and burn it. These laws are complicated at times. [Sometimes people will say], 'I'm burning vegetation but it's wood.' Well, if you carry a tree that's on your property to a saw mill, bring it back and decide you're going to burn it, it's illegal because the material has been milled. Whereas, if you take that same tree and cut it down, then you can burn it. If anything's been done at all other than take a chain saw to it and cut it into control lengths, you can't do that."
While rules may seem strict to some, Cox reminds citizens that regulations are in place for the safety of the general public.
"We're not trying to tell people they can't burn," Cox said. "We just want them to do it right, do it safely and if we do this it cuts down on everything as a whole."
For further information or specific questions, call the local fire station around the county. General questions for anyone living outside a city limits may call Station 1. All residents wishing to burn items must call the basic line at 1-877-652-2876.
Bartow County Fire Departments
* Cartersville: Station 1; 770-387-5151
* Emerson: Station 6; 770-387-5177
* White: Station 5; 770-387-5164
* Adairsville: Station 10; 770-877-9021
* Kingston: Station 7; 770-336-5000
* Euharlee: Station 3; 770-387-5155
* Taylorsville: Station 11; 770-684-8060
City of Cartersville: Station 1; 770-387-5635
For information on burning rules, call: 1-877-652-2876
Georgia Forestry: 770-387-3750