Residents fired up over burn ordinance

Hushed discussion pervaded the meeting room as the public eagerly awaited answers to their many questions regarding an extremely hot topic: The implementation of Starke County’s Burn Ordinance. A topic of serious debate and definite concern, the burn ordinance (and it is an ordinance, not a ban) is under fire by many residents who feel it may lead to unjustified complaints and unnecessary fines. Alvin Paulik asked, “Does this mean we can't burn leaves, can't burn wood?” The commissioners replied and said clean, natural wood that has not been painted, garnished, or coated, and does not contain glues, preservatives, and so on can be burned without any kind of permit in unincorporated areas. The only situation in which a permit is required is when burning piles are larger than 1000 cubic feet, as long as you are burning materials that are allowed. "The ordinance does not regulate or prohibit either the tenant or owner of a property from the burning of leaves that either fall or are wind-blown onto such property, the burning of brush, paper, limbs, trees, or woody vegetation from such property, recreation bonfires or campfires from such property," Commissioner Dan Bridegroom said. “What we're after is to stop the people who are dumping their tires and setting them on fire. Instead of tearing a building down, burning it down, then digging a hole, pushing it in. Things like that.” Another citizen commented that he was concerned troublesome neighbors could report someone for a perfectly acceptable fire. If you are concerned someone may report your fire, you can call the Sheriff’s Department ahead of time to notify them that you will be burning. But either way, if you are burning a pile of wood and the smoke is billowing into someone’s bedroom window, your fire will have to be extinguished. On the other hand, if they are complaining about a charcoal grill, don’t worry too much. "Where this originally started, we would get a phone call from a property owner that the person next door was throwing everything out their back door and about once a month they lit it on fire, and all the smoke went into the house next door," Bridegroom said. This ordinance prevents that from happening. A very important factor in this is often overlooked: This ordinance adapts the state ordinance, which has already been in place for a very long time. The largest differences between our current ordinance and the ordinance proposed are how it’s enforced, and that it will update with the state ordinance. "This ordinance is nothing more than the state statute being incorporated into this ordinance,” said Commissioner Jennifer Davis. “We already have this ordinance.” Larry Wampler of San-Pierre asked what kind of permit process is required in order to burn large piles. The commissioners were not sure what would be required to get a permit, but County Attorney Martin Lucas said he was going to look into it and would send his reply to the commissioners and Wampler. "All we're trying to do is mirror the state of Indiana's ordinance. We're trying to make sure that what we do here at Starke County is what the state prefers us to do,” said Bridegroom. Our ordinance will be “mirroring” the state’s ordinance in the sense that if the state amends their ordinance, ours is automatically updated as well. For enforcement, the Sheriff’s department will mostly be in charge. The Starke County Environmental Management District and Health Department will also have authority to enforce the ordinance. The enforcement of the ordinance is mostly geared towards repeat offenders. First-time offenders will usually be given a warning, unless they are burning chemicals. Carrie Trent of the Starke County Environmental Management District said, "The way this one's set up, it lays out that the first time they come out, it's a warning. The second time, there's a fine.” Ideally, the sheriff’s department would not even have to be involved unless there were repeat incidents or some kind of resistance. If the fire department is called to a burn, they can file a report to the Environmental Management District without involving the sheriff. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no burning allowed in city limits. You can burn your leaves, your brush and such, as long as you live in an unincorporated area and there aren’t high winds. Ted Bombagetti, Starke County EMA Director, said, "When you guys light the fire, you guys are taking responsibility for it. So if the wind shifts, you need to be ready to be proactive to that." The ordinance is available to view for free online at the Starke County website, www.co.starke.in.us.