Commission to consider burn ordinance

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Curry County Commissioners are expected to vote on an ordinance which would allow them to prohibit fires during high risk periods.

Sharna Johnson

A proposed burn ordinance expected to go before Curry County Commissioners today would give the county the authority to cite residents for improper burning, and could result in jail time for violators.

The ordinance would allow the commission to declare, through resolution, when periods of critical fire conditions exist, in essence, banning fire during selective periods.

A public hearing will be conducted during the commission meeting, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the Grady Senior Center in Grady.

It is the second time county officials have pursued a burn ordinance, having abandoned a similar 2008 proposal prior to holding a public hearing.

During times of elevated fire danger, the commission traditionally passes a resolution banning fires, but officials have said there is no authority to enforce a resolution.

During a December commission meeting prior to the ordinance being drafted, Sheriff Matt Murray reminded commissioners that he can not issue citations based on an resolution and has no authority to stop residents from burning even when the commission has advised the community against it.

When a fire ban is in effect, sheriff, fire or road officials have authority to order individuals to stop fires and can issue a citation if the order is not complied with, the ordinance states.

Violators can face penalties of up to $300 and 90 days in jail, with each day of ongoing violations constituting a separate offense.

During declared times of fire danger emergency, if a fire is sighted, the ordinance allows sheriff’s personnel, volunteer fire or road department officials to enter onto private land without a warrant to determine if a risk of uncontrolled fire exists.

They are also granted authority to suppress or extinguish fires they deem to be a risk after making a reasonable attempt to contact the property owner, the ordinance states.

Under the proposed ordinance, during low-risk periods, residents would be required to give 24-hour notice to the fire department, sheriff’s office and police dispatch before they conduct controlled burns, burn rubbish piles or burn barrels.

When winds are below 10 mph and conditions are deemed safe, the only open fires that would be permitted without prior notice would include fires for recreational or ceremonial purposes, barbecuing, heating in fireplaces, non-commercial cooking and small wood fires at construction sites for warming purposes.

Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Hardin said her county passed a similar ordinance a couple of years ago when they too were faced with the inability to enforce burn resolutions.

“In order for someone to be cited for violating there wasn’t any teeth in the resolution; an ordinance allows deputies to actually cite somebody,” she said.

“The fire departments seem to like it and people have complied very well with it — it’s working very well for us.”

Residents are also beholden to state laws which carry penalties for burning on public lands, a felony, or failing to improperly handle fire by leaving it unattended or allowing it to escape control, a petty misdemeanor.

If the ordinance is approved today, it will go into effect 30 days after being recorded in county record.

Also at the meeting, commissioners are expected to:

• Hear a presentation and consider acceptance of the Joint Land Use Study, a commissioned study to examine potential issues between the mission of Cannon Air Force Base and surrounding communities.

• Consider a nine-item consent agenda which includes: An agreement to reimburse travel expenses for an architect to give a Saturday presentation to jail and courthouse citizens’ committees; A culvert and water line permit; An agreement with the Youth Conservation Corps for construction of holding pens and an entrance sign at the fairgrounds; A 30-day contract with Southwest Business Solutions for up to $50,000 computer services; A proposal to auction two road department pickup trucks; A Ute Water Commission invoice for administrative and fiscal services of 240 acre feet at 25 cents per foot; Change in meeting schedule, setting the June meeting for 9 a.m. June 14 at the Texico Fire Department.

• Go into executive session to discuss the purchase, acquisition or disposal of real property.