Penalty for breaking burn ban heating up

PLYMOUTH — The Marshall County Commissioners have made an effort to put some “spark” in the countywide burn ban.
Abnormally dry conditions led to the disaster emergency declaration of a county wide ban on any open burning Oct. 6. With no real rain in sight conditions have continued to become more dangerous for the possibility of a disastrous fire caused by blowing of sparks from an open burn.
Three known field fires occurred over the weekend owing to open burning.
Discussion by the Marshall County Commissioners and County Attorney Jim Clevenger Monday centered around how to add some teeth to the ban that is designed to make residents aware of the dangers of the very dry conditions around Marshall County. That discussion turned to a motion to make those who ignore the ban liable to pay the cost of emergency personnel — fire and police — if they are forced to make an emergency run to put out a fire that runs out of control.
“If someone deliberately starts a fire during the ban that causes an emergency run, they should be forced to reimburse the tax payers for that run,” said Commissioner Tom Chamberlin in support of adding a penalty to the burn ban. “The particular emergency personnel or fire chiefs would be able to do a time and materials assessment to determine the cost of each run.”
While adding the language for the penalty to the burn ban, the Commissioners will begin the process of putting an ordinance to that affect on the books as well. The ordinance would have no affect on cities or towns that have their own governmental bodies, but only unincorporated areas of the county.
“The original idea of the burn ban is to let people know that obviously it’s dry out there — dry enough to cause a big problem,” said Plymouth Fire Chief Andy Metsker, whose crews responded to a field fire on Sunday evening. “Putting some teeth behind the suggestion not to burn is probably a good idea.”
Some field fires can be caused by accident from farm machinery working the field at this time of year, but Metsker says that determining the cause of a field fire is not difficult.
“It’s pretty obvious when you’re doing a fire investigation whether a fire was accidental or not,” he said. “Fire behaves in a predictable way. You have a point of origin and a cause. If you see a combine sitting in a field where the fire started you can probably determine that it was accidental. If you see campfire utensils at the center of it that’s pretty obvious too.”
Metsker urged all Marshall County residents to take caution until the weather cooperates with more moisture.
“Our main thrust at the Plymouth Fire Department is prevention,” he said. “Until it rains for a significant time people really need to have as much caution with fire outside as they do with fire inside their homes. We have a lot of heavily wooded areas, very beautiful places around the county that we need to be careful with.”