Farmer Convicted In Chicken House Burning

SALISBURY — A Wicomico County farmer was found guilty of unlawful burning this week in District Court after a Maryland Attorney General’s Office investigative team discovered he had set fire to a demolished chicken house last January after he was denied a permit.

On Monday, Randolph Swift, 59, of Pittsville, was found guilty of unlawful burning under the Environmental Article of the Maryland Annotated Code for violating restrictions on open burning. Swift had applied to the Wicomico County Health Department for an open-air burning permit last November to get rid of piles of debris on his Pittsville property from a demolished chicken house.

However, the health department advised Swift at the time no burn permit could be issued for the piles of debris and remains of the chicken house and its contents because of environmental concerns and that the material would have to be taken to the county’s landfill for disposal. In January, the fire department received a call advising there were piles of debris burning on Swift’s property without any fire personnel present.

Upon responding to the site, the Wicomico County fire chief observed multiple smoldering piles of debris including cremations and the demolished chicken house and its contents for which Swift had not obtained a permit. Following an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office Environmental Crimes Unit, Swift was charged with a criminal violation of conducting an open fire without a permit. On Monday, Swift was found guilty and was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine into the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Clean Air Fund.

“Open air burning can release any number of toxic chemicals into the air,” said Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler following the trial. “As a result, such fires can pose a serious threat to the health and welfare of anyone who lives nearby.”

Gansler took the occasion to remind citizens burning construction material is illegal without a permit. When construction or any housing material is burned, including items such as insulation, carpet, asphalt shingles, linoleum or other materials, dangerous chemicals are released into the environment.

The pollutants can cause health problems for anyone nearby and can cause damage to lungs and aggravation of diseases and conditions such as asthma and bronchitis. In addition, the ash from a construction site burn can also create problems as it is likely to threaten the groundwater. As a result, construction and demolition waste should not be burned, but rather disposed of at landfills and other state-approved facilities where environmental and health risks are minimized.