Latest proposed burn regulations remove upper wind restriction and 911 approval

By John Green
Hutchinson News – May 17, 2017

The Reno County Commission appears ready to adopt new regulations on open burning that put the onus on property owners to determine whether conditions are appropriate for a controlled burn.

The commission indicated a consensus Tuesday on the latest version of a burning resolution and will take it up next week for a vote, after extensively debating the issue over several meetings earlier this year.

The final resolution still requires that an individual call 911 in advance of a burn, but the reason for the call is to advise emergency responders of a planned control burn, rather than to get permission to burn.

The only information dispatchers – or a dispatch administrator if officials set up a separate number for prescribed burn calls, as was discussed Tuesday – will provide callers is whether a county burn ban is in effect.

The person planning the burn will have to ensure they comply with other regulations in the resolution.

The regulation prohibits burning if a burn ban is in effect, if wind speeds are less than 5 mph or more than 15 mph for non-agricultural burning, and less than 5 mph for an agricultural open burn.

The commission agreed to remove the upper limit on wind speed for agricultural burns, since state law does not set one and experts have expressed during several previous meetings that higher wind speeds are sometimes required or at least desired.

The regulations also prohibit burns if the Grassland Fire Danger Index is “very high” or “extreme;” if adequate fire response personnel are not available; and an hour before sunrise or two hours before sunset.

The plan, Commissioner Ron Hirst advised the commission – and public – is to post a link to educational information about controlled burns on the county’s website.

The page will include links to a National Weather Service tabular site, where viewers can find local forecasts of hourly wind speeds and humidity levels, and to the Grassland Fire Index.

Hirst noted different conditions are appropriate for burning at different times of the year, with higher winds and lower humidity necessary to get an adequate, safe burn during summer, when there is more green, than those levels required in spring.

“There is no one wind speed that fits all,” Hirst said. “With the knowledge available out there to present to everyone, if you’re doing due diligence and doing things correctly you won’t create a fire danger to your adjoining property.”

The proposed site will also post information about burning workshops planned in advance of the next burn season. Officials will offer the workshop in different parts of the county, “so that people can understand and become more familiar with how to burn, the conditions they can burn in and what needs to done as far as manpower and how to do this safely,” Hirst said.

For the new regulation to work, however, Hirst noted, will require prosecuting “some who do not do things properly.”

The county adopted an amended burn resolution last year, said County Counselor Joe O’Sullivan, because some residents wanted told “yes or no” on a burn.

Those regulations, however, restricted burns if winds were over 15 mph, which many, particularly prescribed burn cooperatives, felt was too restrictive, resulting in them having to conduct literally hundreds of burns over just a few weeks.

Law enforcement officials also wanted to remove the burden from 911 dispatchers, who under current rules have to provide information on wind speeds and the fire hazard index to callers.

“I’m thinking this is about the best we can do,” O’Sullivan said.

Emergency Management Director Adam Weishaar expressed concern that landowners will not check conditions, “that they won’t look at whether it’s high fire index day or may end up burning on a high wind day.”

“If you want to put it on citizens and hold them liable, if that’s what the board wants I support it,” Weishaar said. “My biggest concern is you’re going to run the volunteers ragged. I’m afraid this might open a Pandora’s Box and make them run on a lot more calls.”

E-911 Director Michelle Abbott agreed with Weishaar, but expressed appreciation dispatchers would no longer be tasked with providing all the previously required information to callers.

“No matter what we do, we’ll not make everyone happy,” Commission Chairman Dan Deming said. “Personally I think it’s a reasonable compromise. It’s a long way from where we started and I’m willing to take the recommendations.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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