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Ignoring the ‘No Open Burning’ Rules

hamilton firemen
Hamilton volunteer firemen. (KLYQ File Photo)
Hamilton Volunteer Fire Chief Brad Mohn and Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman are frustrated with people conducting illegal opening burning during the winter.

Montana has prohibited open burning through the winter months when stagnant air often gets trapped in the valleys, leading to bad air quality.

However, Mohn told KLYQ Radio that this year more and more people are ignoring the law and conducting open burning of trash or other refuse. For instance, of 26 fire calls in January, 15 have been for illegal open burning.

Mohn and Sheriff Hoffman have addressed the problem with the Ravalli County Commissioners. The issue is of concern to all the volunteer departments in the valley. Since they are volunteer operations, firemen often have to leave their jobs to respond. And when it’s an illegal fire, there’s no real penalty.

Without making a rule that would endanger people, some officials would like to see some “teeth” put into the “no open burning” rules. The restrictions are from December 1 to March 1. The only open burns are ones allowed by special permits.

Another problem is actually the outgrowth of a successful program. When people are allowed to conduct an open burn, they are advised to notify authorities so that 911 dispatchers don’t send out firemen to a controlled burn.

People are doing that. In fact, a lot of people are doing that.

In 2012, almost 13,000 people called in to 911 to say they were going to burn. Last year it was almost 15,000. In fact, on one day of 2013, about 300 calls were about burning plans. With a small staff, the 911 center is overwhelmed.

Hoffman said there is a program that over a dozen counties in Montana have adopted that frees up the dispatchers by using the internet to collect the initial information about burning plans.

Further discussion is planned with the rest of the departments in Ravalli County.

And remember, no open burning until March 1.

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