Commissioners strive to work with residents regarding burn ban

By Amber Coulter
Linn County News – March 26, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – March 28, 2014

The Linn County Commissioners spent time at their meeting Monday, March 24, discussing controlled burns and burn ban regulations. The conversation commenced with Fire Chief/Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Barlet providing a weather forecast to determine whether a burn ban should be reinstated.

Barlet predicted that wind speeds would increase significantly Wednesday and Thursday, possibly reaching gusts of 40 mph. Barlet recommended that the commissioners place a burn ban in effect for at least Wednesday morning through Friday morning.

Following discussion last week that several Emergency Managers have the authority to place or remove burn bans, Commissioner Vicki Leonard responded that she thought the commissioners should give Barlet the authority to instate a burn ban throughout this week at his discretion. Commissioner Mike Page stated he thought placing that authority with Barlet would be a good decision.

Page mentioned CRP burn obligations after hearing complaints that adequate time is not being given to complete prescribed burns.

Barlet responded, “We understand that we have to give people time to burn.” He pointed out that the burn ban was lifted over the weekend. “It was a little risky in the afternoons with the 20 mph wind gusts, and a few of the fires got away, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as last weekend when we had 37 fires,” he said.

“They still need some time to burn and we understand that, but if we know we’re going to have 15 percent humidity and 40 mph wind gusts, that’s not the time to burn.” Barlet referred to March 13, when numerous fires broke out across the county, noting conditions were not ideal for burning that day.

Page added that the commissioners should not be too stringent in their placement of burn bans, yet they also need to consider safety hazards that may arise in certain weather conditions.

Commissioner Herb Pemberton asked if there is any way the Fire Department could assist in controlled burns before they get out of hand. “Would that help?” Pemberton asked.

Barlet responded, “Years ago, we used to go out and actually do burns for people. The concerns I would have at this point in time would be if we light a fire and it gets away from us then burns something, we would be liable for that.”

The second issue Barlet pointed out would be resource availability. “If I go out and light a fire and we have all of Mound City’s grass fire equipment out there, what happens if someone else loses control of their fire? As much as we would like to do it, I think it creates a risk for us not having the capability to respond somewhere else where we would be needed.”

Barlet pointed out that in many cases, fires require multiple fire stations and combined resources to be fully extinguished.

Bartlet said, “I don’t have a good answer for you as to how we could help other than to try to go out and put them out when they get out of control.” Barlet mentioned starting a prescribed burn class, which has been done several times already. He noted that attendance in the past has been low.

Pemberton said, “The deadline seems to be what is hurting them.” Pemberton added that county residents have complained that officials are extinguishing their controlled burns when the burns themselves were not creating any problems.

Barlet responded, “Through the burn ban, we put every fire out that was burning. If they are in control of their controlled burn, we let them burn. We’re not going out and intentionally putting out fires unless we’re in the burn ban. We’re still trying to let them burn.”

Leonard added, “The word controlled burn is confusing. It can be a supervised burn, but that’s not always in control. A lot of those factors depend on the wind, humidity, and things that you (Barlet) are watching constantly, which is why I think this being left at your discretion would probably be the best for us. You’re studying those factors that we don’t have.

“It’s hard for us to have meetings in the middle of the week and make those decisions when we’re relying on your expertise anyway.”

Page said, “It’s getting to be a critical thing. We have to let folks burn as much as they can, but we can’t do it at the risk of burning structures or having property loss. Especially personnel injuries and the things we don’t sometimes focus on whenever we’re trying to make these decisions.”

Sheriff Paul Filla pointed out that people are required to call the Sheriff’s Department dispatch prior to lighting a controlled burn to hear whether conditions are favorable.

County resident Fred Kautt added that took a copy of the draft resolution 14-007 from the previous commissioner meeting to Brian Lueker at the FSA office and Mike Van Wyk at the NRCS office, who were both receptive to the controlled burn regulation efforts made by the commissioners.

Kautt mentioned the cutoff date to burn and noted that if limited burn opportunities continue, then the commissioners need to approach those federal agencies to see if a burn date extension would be possible.

Kautt said an extension would relieve some of the pressure off everyone between now and the 15th.

Barlet added, “When the winds are 35-40 mph and the humidity reaches below 20-25 percent, most people are not going to be able to control their fire, even with prescribed burn methods. Those are the times we want to try to restrict it and prevent them from burning.”

Page added, “Just a little misjudgment around fire can be catastrophic.”

Barlet noted, “This time of year the wind can be blowing from the south 20 mph one minute and from the north 20 mph the next minute. That’s part of what’s causing problems as well. It just changes.”

Page moved to allow Barlet the discretion to approve a burn ban on a day-to-day basis without having to go through the commissioners. Page also moved to allow Barlet to communicate with federal agencies to let them know what’s going on and hopefully receive their cooperation to extend the burning time frames. Both movements carried.

Barlet returned later in the meeting and explained that he spoke with those federal agencies and discovered that they cannot change the date set for burning for CRP since it is set by statute at the state level, and it would conflict with the bird nesting period.

However, Barlet added, exceptions could be made on an individual basis if burning could not be completed due to conditions within the county. “They said they would work with anybody who could not burn because of the bans and they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Barlet said.

The conversation regarding controlled burns concluded with the commissioners approving resolution 14-007, which establishes regulations and required procedures for agricultural open burning.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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