County feels fires’ heat

County feels fires' heat by David Lias Fire department officials from Vermillion and Wakonda and the Clay County Commission had little difficulty seeing eye-to-eye at Tuesday�s commission meeting.

They all agreed that there has been a rash of grass and field fires that have flared out of control in the region recently.

They also agreed that the fires� causes range from a very dry winter and spring to poor judgement on the part of property owners.

Vermillion Fire Chief Doug Brunick presented the commission with copies of resolutions used by Charles Mix, Davison, Hand and Lincoln counties to declare fire emergencies and enact restrictions for outdoor blazes.

�It looks like the resolutions are modeled after each other,� he said.

None of the documents cited periods of high winds as times when outdoor burning would be prohibited.

�I asked about that,� Brunick said, �and usually it�s because the counties don�t set the restrictions on a day-by-day basis. With the resolutions, they set the restrictions for longer lengths of time.�

Brunick�s research shows that Lincoln County passed its own ordinance allowing it to control outdoor burning.

The other counties passed resolutions instead of placing new laws on the books. The resolutions don�t allow counties to directly penalize individuals who violate the burning ban.

�I think we would want to do it by ordinance,� said Commission Chairman Jerry Sommervold.

Commissioner Paul Hasse asked if an ordinance would mean that certain outdoor burning would be permanently outlawed, since the ordinance would become a permanent part of the county�s laws.

�No, the ordinance would allow the county to declare a fire emergency,� Brunick said. �What we would like is, if we get to a point where we are in a fire emergency status, we could use the ordinance to declare, by resolution, a fire danger emergency.�

�We need to get the ordinance on the books,� Sommervold said.

Commissioners noted that they would need the help of State�s Attorney Tami Bern to draft the ordinance. She is currently on maternity leave.

Brunick and Pollman noted that even though the typical season for controlled burns in the region is nearly over, the county shouldn�t wait too long before enacting the ordinance.

�As July and August come around, and if we don�t get much more moisture, we�re probably going to be having problems,� Brunick said.

�We will work on this,� Sommervold said. �We will talk to the state�s attorney.�

In the absence of local regulations that prohibit burning during certain conditions, officials can turn to state law to try to keep the number of outdoor fires under control.

South Dakota law states that it is Class 1 misdemeanor for a person to negligently allow a fire to spread.

It is also a Class 1 misdemeanor to burn without giving due caution the weather conditions and having a firebreak in place.

In addition to criminal sanctions, a person who negligently causes a fire to be started or spread is liable for all fire suppression and extinguishing costs.

�State law gives you the ability to go back and pick up costs of putting out fires that are caused because of someone being negligent,� Sommervold said.

�We�ve answered 32 (grass fire) calls since late February,� Brunick said.

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