County approves burn ban ordinance

Sharna Johnson

Curry County commissioners adopted an ordinance Tuesday granting them authority to invoke a burn ban during periods of high fire danger.

The ordinance, passed on a 4-1 vote, also identifies types of burning allowed during times of low fire risk.

Burning of refuse in piles or back yard burn barrels, small fires for warmth, incinerators, cook fires and recreational fires are allowed when winds are less than 10 mph and during unrestricted open burning times.

The ordinance, however, requires residents to notify authorities when they plan to burn refuse on their property, with commissioners voting to include the phone number for police and fire dispatch in the ordinance so residents can call before they burn.

Commissioners struck a 24-hour notification requirement for controlled burns, which was contained in the original proposed ordinance, in favor of notification prior to burning without time constraints after residents objected, saying it’s impractical to expect people to plan burns 24-hours in advance.

Concerns centered on burning rubbish and other items on private property.

Broadview Volunteer Fire Chief Tommy Lofton said with the way weather patterns rapidly change, it is difficult to schedule controlled burns and opportunities have to be taken when available.

“You get; if the weather’s right, you burn,” he said. “(Giving 24-hour notice) will not work.”

Volunteer fire fighter Pat Woods told commissioners he wasn’t sure if a burn ordinance would help curb wildfires, which he said are most often caused along highways by tossed cigarettes or friction from dragged vehicle parts.

“That’s our main cause of fire in our part of the world is accidental fires,” he said. “People have got to have a brain and be responsible … Will this make people more responsible? I have my doubts.”

The ordinance also allows county officials to enter private property without a warrant to investigate fires that could present a potential danger.

Curry County resident James Priest, long known for his objections to government interference on property rights, spoke out against the ordinance.

“People gotta have responsibility … it ain’t gonna help,” he said.

“I don’t believe the sheriff can just come on my land. That is taking rights from me that are my rights.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn was the dissenter on the issue, objecting to restrictions that he believes do little to address the source of wildfires in the area.

Blackburn said he burns in a dumpster every morning and he finds it is more often cigarettes tossed from vehicles or fireworks responsible for fires in the county.

“(The ordinance) won’t really attack the problem,” he said.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days from the date it is filed in county records.

The commission can, through its authority, pass resolutions banning all fires and burning during high risk weather periods and then rescind those bans when the risk is gone.

Violating the ordinance can result in a citation and 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.