Cleaning up the air in Utah County is important, but county fire officials say that proposed changes in open burning laws would only make them more difficult to enforce.

In a meeting of city fire chiefs from throughout the county, the officials agreed to unanimously oppose the proposed changes in the Utah Air Conservation regulations closing all open burning in the county.Provo Fire Chief Bill Blair said he called the meeting last week to find out how other fire chiefs felt about the proposal, which would prohibit open burning of clippings, bushes, plants and tree limbs.

"I wanted to make sure I wasn't coming out of left field, but everyone agrees that they want to maintain control," Blair said.

Lt. Gary Clayton, director of the Utah County Sheriff's Emergency Services Division, said: "It is not an issue whether we support clean air. They are talking about doing something that will take us backward in what we are trying to do in the county. We used to have uncontrolled burning, but we almost have it in control now with permits."

The proposal - aimed at prohibiting open burning in Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties - would not, however, prohibit burning related to agricultural-horticultural operations or impose burning periods on agricultural operations.

But Blair said he believes it will be difficult to determine what would qualify as agricultural and horticultural operations.

The Utah Air Conservation Committee is proposing that an operation be deemed agricultural/horticultural if it meets the state's definition of "land in agricultural use."

To qualify as agricultural land, an operator must have more than five acres devoted to agricultural use and earn a gross income of $1,000 per year from the operation.

Blair said the fire officials are concerned that people who do not meet the requirements will continue to burn illegally, but in an unsafe manner since they won't be required to have permits.

"We are trying to get rid of the fire hazard. Most leaves and clippings get burned and are not dumped in a trash pile. We have control now, and we want to maintain that."

Blair said when permits are issued, the fire department regulates the size of a burn pile, where it is located and the way it is burned. Then when the weather and air is right, the department gives them the go-ahead to burn.

"It's been working really well. We are happy with it."

The only change Blair would like made is a variance in the 30-day window when they are allowed to let citizens burn, weather permitting. He prefers a 14-day window in the spring and a 14-day window in the fall.

The proposal could cause additional problems if citizens decide they do not want to take their clippings to the city's landfill and instead dump them on vacant lots. It only creates more of a fire hazard, he said.

Clayton agreed. "We are afraid they will do what they have to do. If it's all illegal, then they are not going to cooperate. We are afraid they will still burn."

Blair said a letter opposing the proposal will be sent by the fire chiefs to the Utah Department of Health.

The Utah County Council of Governments, comprising mayors and county commissioners, also objects to the proposal.