County fire marshal stresses burn permit rules

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Fire season is upon us, and with that in mind Dawson County Fire Marshal Richie Crisafulli wants to remind county residents that there is a defined legal process for conducting private controlled burns that needs to be followed.

“I want to reiterate that we have a burn permit process in Dawson County,” Crisafulli said.

Crisafulli noted that there have been a couple of recent incidents where county residents have conducted a burn without a permit or, though they had a permit, did not call in their burn to the local dispatch office and burned on a day when a burn ban was in effect.

Obtaining a burn permit is simple and cost-free, and once obtained is good for the entire year. Burn permits are available through the office of District Sanitarian Kevin Peña. They can be picked up in person at his office in the Dawson County Courthouse, or they can be filled out online during regular business hours – Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and then emailed to Peña’s assistant at holleyc@dawsoncountymontana.com.

“It is a pretty easy process,” Crisafulli said of obtaining a burn permit.

Once a person has an authorized burn permit in hand, all they need to do from there is to call the dispatch office each time they plan to conduct a controlled burn and let dispatchers know their permit number and the time and location of their burn. Dispatchers will also be able to inform the permit holder if a burn ban is in effect for that day.

Crisafulli noted that burn permit holders absolutely need to call their burns in to dispatch when they plan to burn, not only to prevent emergency responders from being sent on a wild goose chase, but so they know if a burn ban is in effect. Crisafulli said the first thing he does every morning is check the weather forecast, and certain conditions will cause him to implement a burn ban to prevent controlled fires from turning into wildfires.

“On days where I see the wind is going to be gusting or temperatures are rising, then I’ll call dispatch and tell them to deny anyone who calls in with a burn permit,” Crisafulli said.

He added that throughout the fire season, fire marshals from counties around the area have regular conference calls to discuss fire conditions across the region, and a burn ban in a neighboring county can sometimes cause him to implement a burn ban here, even if the weather conditions aren’t as bad as in a neighboring county.

“We try to work together,” Crisafulli said. “If Wibaux County is having burn restrictions or cutting back on their burning, we’ll try to follow them.”

There are, of course, other rules that burn permit holders must follow. Controlled burns must be attended at all times, and there is a fairly comprehensive list of things which are prohibited from being burned, including rubber, plastics, hazardous chemicals, treated lumber and other materials. A full list of items which cannot be burned is located on the back of each burn permit.

Unfortunately, Crisafulli said, far too many people are not following the rules, mostly by not even bothering to obtain a burn permit, which he said too often results in emergency responders wasting their time and taxpayer money responding to fires reported by concerned citizens to dispatch which turn out to be controlled burns.

“What we’re seeing is people are not using the burn permit process, and then that causes unwarranted responses from these volunteers and they’re called away from their jobs and their families,” Crisafulli said. “It also causes dispatch to send a deputy to an unneeded location, so it’s not just the fire department, it affects several agencies when this happens.”

He added that the local authorities have generally been lenient with burn permit violators in the past, but that may change if people don’t start following the burn permit process the way that they should.

“Continued failure to comply could lead to citations by local law enforcement,” Crisafulli said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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