Havre Daily News
A new Hill County ordinance makes burn permit-holders responsible for damage caused when large controlled burns get out of control.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the ordinance - which takes effect March 23, was needed because the county previously had no way to penalize people when fires got out of hand.
Fire is often used to burn stubble or maintain land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program. About 300,000 acres in Hill County are in CRP.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard, a member of the Hill County Fire Council, said rural departments have had problems with people burning without permits or alerting their neighbors. Fire departments have incurred costs by showing up at controlled burns that were reported by neighbors, he said.
In the past, individual landowners whose property was damaged by a controlled burn had to resolve any monetary losses on their own, Sheppard said.
Rules and regulations were listed on the back of burn permits.
If a permit-holder fails to comply with the ordinance and a fire gets out of hand and damages someone else's property, the person who set the fire will be liable for 100 percent of the damage and the costs incurred by the responding fire department, Kaercher said.
Local law enforcement will be in charge of enforcing the ordinance, Sheppard said.
“Last year during the CRP burn season, we had several fires that got out of control and put firefighters and others in danger,” Kaercher said Wednesday. “That may be rectified by this ordinance.”
A need for the ordinance was brought to the commissioners' attention of the commissioners by the Hill County Fire Council.
The ordinance says: “All fields of 80 acres or greater require a burn plan prior to being issued a permit.
“The permit holder must notify all adjacent property operators and residents prior to the burn,” it says. Also, “Burning will not be allowed if the wind is blowing more than 10 mph to mitigate fire damage during large acreage controlled burns.”
No one attended a public hearing on the ordinance held Tuesday, Kaercher said.