County takes action after multiple area fires

By Charity Keitel
Osawatomie Graphic – March 26, 2014

Concern about dangerous burning conditions led Linn County commissioners on Monday to give Doug Barlet, emergency management coordinator, authority to call for a burn ban on a day-to-day basis at his discretion.

“We’re still pretty busy, but not as bad as last week,” Barlet said about the number of weekend fires.

Still, high wind gusts are expected toward the middle of the week and burning will be dangerous, he said.

Because many area farmers and other residents are trying to complete their Conservation Reserve Program burning before the April 15 deadline, the commission is concerned that enforcing too strict a burn ban will be detrimental.

“I’m on the center of the road about allowing people to burn,” Commissioner Mike Page said. “We don’t want people being silly about it, but we don’t want to be too stringent, either.”

Commissioner Herb Pemberton said he wondered if there was any way to assign county firefighters to assist farmers burning CRP ground in controlled burns.

“As much as we would like to do it, I think it creates a risk,” Barlet said.

He said that there is a viability element to having county firefighters in charge of someone else’s burn, because if the fire gets out of control before it can be put out and destroys property or injures someone, the county may be held responsible.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said it is his opinion that if the county firefighters did not set the fire themselves they could not be liable.

Barlet said the other concern he had with putting county firefighters in charge at controlled burn sites was the lack of reinforcements and equipment should a call, or multiple calls, come in from other parts of the county.

“If we’re tied up in a fire at one place, and then called out to another, it could be a problem,” he said.

Pemberton reiterated that some kind of county aid was needed.

“If they (residents) got a deadline, they’re going to do it (burn),” he said. “We need some kind of control.”

“Our exposure’s still the same, but our window’s getting narrower,” Page agreed.

“We could try to get a prescribed burn class going,” Barlet said, adding that the suggestion may not work unless it is a mandatory class since most people don’t attend otherwise.

Barlet also said that he had talked to representatives at the USDA office and that they had told him CRP and other programs’ burns could not be extended; however, anyone who cannot meet the required deadline because of county burn bans could go in and explain. Those people may be allowed to burn after the nesting period of April 15 to July 15 or they may be allowed to be exempt for this year.

The commission voted, 3-0, to allow Barlet to call for a burn ban at his discretion. It also passed a resolution (No. 14-007) creating additional guidelines for those who burn within county limits.

For more information about the guidelines for burns within county limits, go to www.linncountyks.com.

In other business, commissioners:

  • Approved the fire board’s request to pay $100 instead of on-call pay to each volunteer firefighter who worked on March 13 from the period between 2 and 10 p.m. Barlet said the fire board thought it would simplify the payroll process for that day since there were so many calls. He said there were possibly 30 to 40 firefighters to be reimbursed. The list is still being put together.
  • Approved a request for the conditional hire of Scott McCrea as a firefighter for Station 940 in Parker.
  • Approved a $300 partial reimbursement for travel expenses for firefighter Dennis Downey, who will be participating in a training class hosted by the National Fire Academy.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster