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Hill County adopts burn ban as dry conditions worsen


A countywide burn ban has been imposed by the Hill County Commission amid concerns about low moisture and high temperatures.

"It's just another effect of the prolonged drought," Commissioner Kathy Bessette said today. "Really, most people understand the condition we're in. All they have to do is look at their lawns."

The commission unanimously approved the ban during a meeting Thursday. The measure took affect at midnight Thursday.

"That means no open fires anywhere in the county, even in fire pits," said County Commission Chair Pat Conway. The ban includes visitors to Beaver Creek Park. People camping may still use gas or propane stoves, Conway added.

Those people with legitimate burning needs must apply for a burn permit from their local fire department.

Anyone caught violating the ban can be fined up to $500, Hill County Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa said today.

The ban marks the third time in four years the commission has opted to impose the ban, Conway said, adding that high temperatures have robbed plants of their moisture.

The ban will last until the county receives "significant rainfall or cooler weather," he said.

The fire danger is especially high due to the amount of grass and shrubs in the area, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said today. Heavy spring rains led to considerable plant growth, he said. The potential for a catastrophic fire is high with the low levels of moisture plus the strong winds common to the area, he said.

"Things are drying out. We have a lot of grass out there. There's a lot of fuel to burn." he said, adding that he expects the ban to last until well into the fall.

Another concern is farmers losing their crops to flames, he said.

"There's a lot of crops in the area," he said. "The farmers have a big investment in them and don't want to see anything happen to them."

The commissioners said they will continue to discuss the fire ban on Monday and expect to receive feedback from the public.

Commissioner Doug Kaercher said he does not expect any resistance to the commission's decision to impose the ban, but that people often have questions about how the ban will affect them.

Hill County's ban coincides with similar restrictions across the state. Other counties imposing the bans are Bighorn, Carbon, Gallatin, Liberty, Meagher, Musselshell, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Treasure and Yellowstone.

Numerous fires have broken out across the state, including one south of Malta. Two-thirds of the blaze, dubbed the Mickey Butte Fire, was in the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The fire, which was caused by lightning, has grown to 3,100 acres, spokesman Bill Berg said.

A smaller blaze started in Blaine County three weeks ago near Cleveland, the so-called Black Butte fire. Volunteer firefighter Dave Unruh, who helped contain the fire, said the blaze was contained the first day but sparked up again a day later. Smokejumpers responded to the fire the second day and were able to contain it, Unruh said.

The number of acres burned in the Black Butte fire was not available today.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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