One service many municipalities provide their citizens is a safe and secure location to dispose of their tree branches and grass clippings. The site where the debris is taken is usually on the outskirts of the town and many times are not monitored as it would be difficult to staff, and the dumpsite may be the busiest on the weekends when homeowners are doing the most mowing and clean up in their yards.
With drought or near-drought conditions in most of Nebraska, it may be time to look at the policies for the dumpsite in the community especially considering fire safety issues. Here are some factors to be considered:
1. There is always a chance flammable lawn and yard debris can catch on fire so there should be clear signage at the entrance of a community dump site that prohibits smoking and the disposal of fireplace ashes.
2. Spontaneous combustion can occur whenever there is a compact pile of decomposing materials. City staff needs to check dump sites at least once daily for any signs of smoke or fire.
3. Ensure there is ample space between the piles of brush, the piles of grass clippings, any area structures and/or equipment to prevent the spread of any fire that does occur.
4. Many communities provide low concrete walls between piles to discourage the spread of fire. Consider using concrete blocks or other non-flammable building materials to erect walls to separate debris piles.
5. Workers in the area should be aware of the danger of heat and sparks that may be discharged from equipment used near the piles of brush and lawn debris.
6. Consider who is dumping materials at a community dumpsite by controlling access to the dump and requiring a person to register at the city offices before entering the site.
7. A municipality needs to use extreme caution when burning a brush pile. There should be no wind on the day of the burn and the burn needs to be monitored until the fire is out and there are no longer any smoldering remains. The local fire department should be alerted that a burn will be held. According to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE), a Community Open Fire Permit Application must be submitted “for the purpose of destroying trees, brush, and untreated lumber at community sites.” Community Open Fire Permits are valid for up to six-year terms. Go to http://deq.ne.gov/Publica.nsf/pages/07-279 for more information.
There will always be branches and other lawn debris that homeowners and business owners need to get rid of and the community dump site provides a valuable service. If this is a service your municipality provides, please take all the necessary precautions to mitigate the risks of a potential fire.