Summit County, others institute a fire ban
SUMMIT COUNTY – As Monday’s temperatures climbed to more than 80 degrees and the sun beat down on parched trees nearby, the Board of County Commissioners joined a dozen other counties across the state in voting to ban open fires.
Commissioners cited the hot, dry weather conditions and the numerous large, destructive fires that have swept across the West as the impetus for restrictions.
“It’s a tinderbox,” Commissioner Tom Long said of the county landscape.
Under the resolution, open fires will be allowed only in permanent fire pits or fire grates at private residences and improved campgrounds. Charcoal grills, liquid- and gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and stoves within all buildings, and fires authorized by properly issued burn permits are also exempt.
The BOCC adopted the ban at the recommendation of Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales and Snake River Fire Chief Dave Parmley, who met with the BOCC Monday morning.
“It’s that time of year,” Morales said. “It’s just something we have to do.”
“I think that the fire chiefs are fully supportive of this and want to see it happen,” Parmley added.
The current penalty for those who fail to comply is a mandatory court summons and a fine, determined by the judge, that ranges from $300 to $700. That will most likely change in the next two weeks as the county attorney and Sheriff’s Office plan to sit down and figure out a penalty structure that’s not quite so cumbersome.
“When we initially did this, the desire was to drag (violators) before the judge and have a little chat with them,” County Attorney Jeff Huntley said.
That didn’t always work as planned, however, especially with tourists who may have found it impossible to return for subsequent court dates.
“If they don’t show up, we just perpetuate legal work for ourselves,” Commissioner Bill Wallace noted.
To alleviate the problem, officials hope to devise a system that allows people charged with infractions to mail in their fines rather than face a day in court. Still, the monetary penalties could be significant.
“I think it should be something fairly substantial,” Morales said when mentioning figures up to $250 for a first offense. “We’re very interested in making sure we don’t have repeat offenders.”
In the meantime, Morales said, the Sheriff’s Office will not be as strict as it might become.
“We try to be a little educational when these things first start,” he said. “We try to cut them a little slack. (But) it reaches a point where we have to do what we have to do to protect our interests and our forests.”
“We just like to have something we can cite under,” Morales said.
Summit County Wildfire Mitigation Officer Patti Maguire said conditions in the county were precarious and that staff should begin posting signs notifying visitors and locals of the ban.
“As of this morning, we’re still very high,” she said of the fire danger level. “If something does pop, it’s going to be complicated.”
The only complicating factor at the moment is the conspicuous lack of a fire ban on U.S. Forest Service lands, although Morales said rangers were negotiating for restrictions that might be in place as soon as the end of the week.
Morales said consistency in restrictions would help prevent a patchwork of enforcement since county officials have no jurisdiction over Forest Service land and vice versa.
“The pressure’s on them to get their act together,” Parmley said.
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