Fire conditions
require faster action

I’m watching snow fall outside my office as I write this, just a couple hours after listening to emergency dispatches about large grass fires that took multiple fire departments to extinguish, then had to be re-extinguished after being reignited by a single hot spot, and I’m glad to hear the county is trying to devise a better system for limiting burning when conditions are ripe for fires to get out of control.

Currently, when a farmer, rancher, or road and bridge crew wants to have a controlled burn, they are supposed to call the county communications office to notify the county — notify, not ask if fires are allowed. Dispatchers can let callers know that there is a fire weather warning if conditions are dry and windy, but they can’t stop someone from burning unless the county commission has approved a burn ban ordinance.

The commission meets more often than city councils or school boards, but there are still six days a week that the commission doesn’t meet most weeks. The result is that by the time the commission has an opportunity to issue a burn ban, the worst of dry or windy conditions are often already past.

The county commission plans to pass a resolution that will set criteria for a burn ban, rather than requiring a new resolution each time a ban is implemented. That would avoid the delayed response of having dangerous conditions lead to a big fire on a Wednesday, followed by approval of a burn ban the next Monday.

Alternatively, the commission could pass an ordinance granting some full-time official — the sheriff and emergency manager seem like the sensible choices, given their close ties with the emergency communications department — the authority to make decisions about whether or not to allow controlled burns on a day-by-day basis.

Without some kind of change to the procedure for issuing burn bans, the county commission will be stuck trying to put out fires that have already happened.