Fire marshal: Burn ban should mean no outdoor burning, period

Steve Nash

With little wind blowing Sunday, it should have been a good day for a controlled burn — but it wasn’t.

    Early Fire Marshal Seth Ringler told Brown County Commissioners Court members Monday about the controlled burn in a pit, which got out of control despite the calm wind. Firefighters arrived and put out the fire.

    “It was in really thick stuff, and if we hadn’t knocked it down quick, it could have gotten really bad,” Ringler said.

    Ringler told about the incident as he argued that firefighters, not commissioners, should decide if special permission should be granted to burn during a burn ban.

    There was no burn ban when the fire went out of control Sunday, but Ringler used the fire as an example of what can happen even in calm wind. Commissioners said they want to look at Ringler’s proposal and receive input from other fire departments, and will consider taking action at a future meeting.

    Ringler was on the agenda to speak after commissioners took action to reinstate a burn ban, noting a recent outbreak of grass fires and an ongoing fire danger. After commissioners approved the burn ban, Brown County Judge Ray West noted that exceptions can be granted if a landowner contacts the sheriff’s office, commissioners and the fire department that covers the property.

    Ringler said firefighters aren’t currently notified when an exception has been granted.

    Ringler said his first request to commissioners was that no exceptions be granted during a burn ban. “Allowing a burn during a ban is not a good idea because conditions are in place, and the probability of a fire starting and spreading is very high,” Ringler said. “Burning during a ban puts the public at risk because some of these get out of control and threaten structures and property.

    “It puts firefighters at risk and costs us money. It costs the cities and the county money. Most of the departments are volunteers who already sacrifice a lot of their time to keep the public safe, and I don’t see any reason to add unnecessary fires for them to deal with. So my first request would be that when there’s a burn ban in, that means no burning because obviously it means conditions are bad, and I don’t understand giving exceptions to people when conditions are like they are.”

    Ringler then stated his second request: if commissioners continue to allow exceptions, firefighters from the affected department should be notified and given a chance to inspect the area, then tell commissioners whether the fire department approves or denies the request.

    Commissioner Gary Worley said when someone currently seeks permission to burn during a burn ban, the landowner will be asked if he has cleared away combustibles, and if the landowner says yes, there are no specifications as to how much land around the burn area has been cleared.

    “I’ll agree with you 100 percent that the county’s exceptions to a burn ban needs a little more verbage and tweaking — make it a little bit safer to burn when there is a burn ban,” Worley said.

    Commissioner Joel Kelton said the county in previous years attempted to enforce a no-exceptions policy to the burn ban but it did not work. There are legitimate reasons to burn during a burn ban, Kelton said, noting that the inability to burn can affect the livelihood of landowners who need to clear their land.

    “I understand there is room for improvement, Kelton said. “There are times when people have legitimate reasons to burn, and they need to do it safely. I agree with you on that.”