By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Commissioners have instituted a burn permit program that may take a load off the 911 emergency dispatch center. The online permit program may be accessed on the internet at www.burnpermit.mt.gov. Once registered a person may activate the permit on any day they decide to burn during the open burning season. In the past people were encouraged to call the non-emergency number at the dispatch center when they planned to burn. According to Hamilton Fire Chief Brad Mohn, the 911 center could receive up to 60 calls per day about open burning. The internet burn permit program is up and running and is ready to use in the upcoming season.
Last Thursday, however, the Commissioners heard from the All Valley Fire Council, composed of fire departments from all over the valley, that an open burning ordinance was needed to make the program successful.
Hamilton Fire Chief Brad Mohn said, “Collectively we feel that a burn permit program will fail if there is no ordinance to back it up.” He said the valley’s fire chiefs would like to see that process started. He said it could include a warning, but repeat offenders need to be cited.
Three Mile Fire Chief Russ Giese agreed that an ordinance was needed. He said, “You do not have the support of the Fire Districts without an ordinance and without the support of the Fire Districts this permit program will fail.”
Commissioner Jeff Burrows said the permit program would benefit the Dispatch Center regardless of whether there is an ordinance or not. He said he didn’t understand the fire districts’ all or nothing approach.
Sheriff Chris Hoffman said that he had no problem with putting a burn permit program in place and that, ordinance or no ordinance, his office would support the program. He said that the annual fence post burning in the valley was a long tradition that would be difficult to change. He said open burning was considered by many a “birthright in the Bitterroot.”
“We need to know where burns are happening,” said Hoffman. He said he would like the chance to see the permit system working without writing any tickets. “I intend to push for an ordinance,” he said, “but this first year I have no problem putting the permit system in place and seeing how it works.”
Mohn and Giese both countered that they were not looking to get citations issued the first year, but they believed that the long process involved in creating an ordinance should be started. Giese said the problem was not with those who call in to 911, they will probably use the permit system. He said the problem was with chronic offenders who repeatedly fail to call in or repeatedly commit illegal burns such as burning trash and other prohibited substances. He said having a permit system with no teeth was futile.
Florence Fire Chief Charlie Lambson said that his fire district was split between Missoula County and Ravalli County. He said on the Missoula side there was an open burning ordinance in place and a $5 permit fee. He said the people on the Missoula side had the same concerns and fears being expressed here but that those fears subsided with the passage of the ordinance. He said getting voluntary cooperation on the Ravalli County side was difficult.
Mohn said that what he was hearing was that the Commissioners and the Sheriff were saying an ordinance was needed eventually so it made sense to start working on one.
“We are not asking that citations be issued the first year,” he said, “But it makes sense to get started on the ordinance.”
Hoffman agreed that an ordinance would be helpful by setting times for burning as a lot of people start fires too late in the day when the wind often picks up in the afternoon.
The commissioners agreed to begin examining some existing ordinances in other counties and working on a draft ordinance for Ravalli County.
Information about the free burn permits now available may be obtained on the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office web page, Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, or by contacting Lt. Zae Hudson at 375-4020 or by contacting your local Fire Chief.
The burn permit is free for the 2015 burn season and valid for the entire season from March 1 to November 30. The burn permit must be activated each time you burn and may be activated online at BurnPermit.mt.gov or by calling 1-855-576-3043. If you do not have internet access you may contact the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office during regular business days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to obtain a burn permit. A correct address, city, zip code, and phone number are required.