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Outdoor Burning Bans Show Central Oregon's Growth

Autumn in rural Oregon means a few things: crisp weather, yellow leaves next to green pines, and the smell of smoke.

It's the time of year for ranchers and residents to burn their old leaves and other trash. But, today, the Sisters fire department holds a public meeting to discuss a ban on outdoor burns.

Are the winds of change coming to Central Oregon? Ethan Lindsey reports from Bend.

It's not just Sisters.

Bend is also in the middle of talks to ban outdoor burning within city limits.

The Bend fire department says every year, it gets more complaints about backyard burns.

That's why deputy fire chief Gary Marshal presented a ban proposal to the city council.

Gary Marshal: “If you look through Bend on these cold days, you'll see smoke hanging into the canyons and a lot of people have their windows open or their outside at the barbeuque or whatever the case may be. And they just expect to have clean air.

Marshal says central Oregon's runaway growth means there is a greater health concern and fire danger than ever before.

And there's also a bit of a culture clash.

Back when central Oregon was still a collection of timber towns and truck stops, residents would collect their grass clippings and leaves through the fall — and eventually burn it.

Frank Messina, with the state's Department of Environmental Quality, says Bend grew up, as a city, when the garbage department came along with a new way.

Frank Messina: “You know, we now in the Bend area have curbside pickup and cheaper cost at the landfill when you are disposing of yard debris. It makes things a little more reasonable cost instead of just open burning.”

But even with garbage trucks and a recycling system, old-timers don't want to let go.

During wildfire season, debris burning is completely banned. But in the autumn, when the ban is lifted, residents in Bend, Sisters and Redmond are  allowed to burn, if the conditions are right.

DEBRIS BURN HOTLINE: “When burning is allowed, please check this message periodically as weather conditions could cause closures. Currently, burning is allowed from daylight to dusk.”

Shannon Dames is with the Deschutes County health department. She says from a health perspective, the issue is very simple. There is no good reason to continue to allow burns within the city.

Healthwise, especially for kids, the smoke is bad news.

But, Dames also notes that Bend and central Oregon are dealing with a culture clash.

Shannon Dames: “Before it was a tradition. A great and easy way to get rid of our rubbage from the yard. Now we really need to start weighing the pros and cons of it.”

Bend had considered, and rejected, a similar ban two years ago.

The new proposals in both Bend and Sisters will be discussed in public meetings and then considered by each city council.

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