Fines, jail time approved for fire restriction violators

Managing Editor

The Fergus County Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to adopt an ordinance establishing penalties for violating fire restrictions and burning without a permit.

Moore Rural Fire Chief Jerry Simpson told the Commissioners he “wholeheartedly” supported the ordinance.

“On Nov. 7 we got an early morning page, at around 1 a.m., on what turned out to be a non-permitted controlled burn. I have about 30 people with pagers who got up at an ungodly hour when they didn’t have to,” Simpson said, adding the county needed an ordinance with “teeth” to be able to enforce fire restrictions.

On the other hand, Ben Tuss said he remembered when every family used a backyard burn barrel to dispose of waste.

“We didn’t think it was a big deal,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things with this ordinance that need more detail.”

For example, Tuss said, if he was hunting on a cold November day with snow on the ground, and wanted to warm up while waiting for a buddy, could he make a fire? Is he required to stay until the fire burns down if there is 2 feet of snow on the ground?

“Some of our worst fires we’ve ever had in Fergus County happened in November with snow on the ground,” Sheriff Troy Eades told Tuss.

Eades, who serves as the County’s fire marshal, explained the statewide conference call that takes place every Tuesday.

“We discuss fuels, weather, the weather that is coming – based on that, a decision about fire danger and fire restrictions is reached,” Eades said. “We know when we go into fire restrictions it affects people’s lives. But we need to consider our firefighters’ lives, too. Most of them are volunteers.”

Mike Chapman questioned why the penalties were not stricter. The ordinance says anyone guilty of violating any provision of any fire restriction is subject to a fine of up to $500 and jail time of up to six months.

“These are serious violations,” Chapman said. “I’m all for giving a judge wiggle room, but aren’t there different categories of misdemeanors?”

Deputy County Attorney Diane Cochran explained there were no categories of misdemeanors for which more serious penalties could be given.

Following public input, the board approved the new ordinance.


In other business

In other business, the commissioners announced two positions at the county remain unfilled: a position as administrative assistant at the fairgounds and a temporary facilities position at the courthouse. A position in the treasurer’s office may be filled soon.

Commissioner Youngbauer announced the Central Montana Tourism Board is accepting applications to fill a vacancy.

The commissioners approved the Nov. 24 claims, amounting to $106,217.60.

The next meeting of the commissioners will be Monday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m.






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