By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. And in reference to controlled burns, not only is it imperative that the appropriate fire department be notified in advance of such events – state statute requires such notification in order to gain permission to perform a controlled burn.
Emergency Management Director Greg Standard asks that anyone interested in conducting a controlled burn follow the correct procedure prior to burning anything on their property.
“Call the Seward County Fire Department at 626-3267 and if it is after hours, there is a machine here that will give them a message to call 629-5410 or 629-7646 for Mike Rice or myself,” Standard said. “If the conditions are within guidelines for burning, we will allow that burn. In the city limits, they would call the city fire department.”
When determining whether a controlled burn is or is not appropriate at that particular time, not only do the current weather conditions must be taken into account, Standard said, conditions throughout the entire predicted burn time must be factored in as well.
“It can’t be overcast, and the wind has to be under 15 miles per hour,” Standard said. “If you go out and there isn’t any wind blowing, and it just seems like a good day to burn something, so you set it on fire. This could be a bad idea. Well, 20 minutes later, a cold front could come through and the wind picks up to 25 miles per hour out of the north and spreads fire into other people’s property. Normally, you would be liable for damages that were caused from that. Maybe it spreads to your own property, things you didn’t want to burn that you own.
“A lot of things can go wrong,” Standard said of not following protocol. “That is one of the things that we check, not just for the present moment weather conditions – is that expected to change within the next period of time? It’s just depending on what they are going to do. A quarter section of grass, we are going to look out for several hours to see what the weather is going to be. If it is a barrel of trash, we are probably going to look into the next hour because it is likely to be out.”
If an individual does not make the correct contacts in order to gain permission to conduct a controlled burn, state statutes allows for a rather hefty fine, Standard said.
“The state statute allows for a fine to be levied against the person who did the burn,” he said. “I believe it is up to $1,500.”
Standard said the statute is regularly enforced, however first time offenders are often educated on the matter to the point that they don’t make the same mistake twice.
“I would like to think we enforce the statute pretty heavily,” he said. “Except with the idea of the first time we see someone, we are going to tend to treat it as an educational thing. If they weren’t aware of the process, we are going to make them aware of that. Normally, that solves the issue, and we don’t have the problem again.”
Prior to 2001, burn bans were placed into effect during periods of dry weather. Only when a burn ban was lifted, were controlled burns allowed in the area. However, no notification was needed. Many in the area can attest to the fact that Southwest Kansas weather can change in the blink of an eye.
“We would get terrible dry conditions, then we would have to go to the county commissioners and ask for a burn ban,” Standard said. “So that might take a week or so to get it to the meeting and by the time that was done, it would rain a day or two after the commission meeting. Then it takes another two weeks to take the ban off.
“It wasn’t helpful to people,” he continued. “It was the law, though, and we really couldn’t allow people to break the law. Going this direction, we can say ‘no, not today, but you can tomorrow.’ We think it is better for the citizens, they have a better opportunity to deal with things.”
Not only has the policy of simply calling in for permission to conduct a controlled burn been more convenient, it has also reduced the number of fire response calls.
“I think we have noticed a reduction of 70 to 80 fire responses a year since the policy went into place,” Standard said. “I think it is mostly a helpful thing to the citizens and, hopefully, not a real hard thing for them to deal with. We hope that it works well for folks, that was the intent.”
Whether someone is burning a barrel of trash or a quarter section of land, protocol must be followed by making the appropriate calls to gain permission.
“We wouldn’t expect people to call if they were going to light a barbeque grill,” Standard said. “But any amount of refuse you are going to dispose of by burning, people need to call. It generally puts off smoke and other people would see it. So, it could turn into a big deal when it shouldn’t be.”