After responding to 70 calls in nine days for out of control burns, rekindled burns, and unreported burns, Marion County Fire Chiefs Association representatives Lester Kaiser, Brad Pagenkopf, Fred Sheridan, and Ben Steketee met with commissioners Monday about the county burn ordinance.
They want a revised burn resolution with clear language and stiffer penalties to deter burns from being started when conditions are hazardous.
Commissioner Lori Lalouette asked the chiefs what they do if someone is burning when they are not supposed to.
“It’s a class C misdemeanor,” Steketee said. “I think that carries maximum one month in jail and maximum $500 fine.”
Kaiser said that they talked to Sheriff Robert Craft and the county attorney’s office, and that they had their support to help enforce any stricter laws they make.
“We are looking at making the penalty more severe,” Steketee said. Chiefs did not offer specific recommendations for more increased penalties.
“We understand this is how people make their living,” Steketee said. “It’s an important tool, but we’re finding that, especially this year, we’ve had so many days where one day it’s great for burning, but if you look at the forecast, the next two or three days are going to be 30 mph winds and it’s going to be changing directions in that time.”
Even though high winds and dry weather have made burning more of a danger, some have gone ahead with burns without reporting them to dispatchers as required.
“Basically it was ‘If I called it in, you would have told me no, so I lit it anyways,’” Sheridan said. “These are the problems we are facing.”
Another problem cited by chiefs was that brush piles and other factors sometimes cause a burn to be a hazard for up to a few weeks.
Chairman Randy Dallke was hesitant about setting stricter rules.
“My concern is if we’re gonna set the rules we’re gonna shut everybody down” Dallke said, “and I’m not too willing to shut everybody down.”
Excessive fires during hazardous conditions put undue strain on department budgets, the chiefs said.
“It’s a ripple effect of everything,” Dallke said. “I’ll agree with that.”
Commissioner Dan Holub said burn ban violators should be held responsible.
“If somebody goes out and doesn’t get a permit, or was told no and does it anyway, they need to be paying the costs,” Holub said. “Above and beyond any fines, there needs to be costs that doesn’t go to the state that will go back to the fire department.”
Chairman Randy Dallke suggested the association holda meeting to hear from farmers.
“We’re gonna have to live with them,” Dallke said. “so I’d like to see a meeting happen.”