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County serious about burn ban enforcement

September 19, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

With the burn ban in Washington County in its second week, health and fire officials were starting to heat up their response to violators.

"We have the power to fine people up to $25,000 or pursue criminal charges when they violate the burn ban," said Laurie Bucher, the Washington County Health Department's director of environmental health.

On Sept. 11, Bucher investigated a large outdoor burn in Ringgold.

"It was like a big pile of rubbish being burned but there were some tires and shingles in there," said Lt. Jason Eckstine of the Long Meadow Fire Co., which assisted Leitersburg, Long Meadow, Smithsburg and Waynesboro, Pa.

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"I issued a violation in that case," Bucher said.

She said the burn ban doesn't prohibit homeowners from having backyard barbecues, cooking on their hibachis, charcoal grills or gas cooktops. But no campfires are allowed and no open burning/cooking is allowed, Bucher said.

On Sept. 12, an illegal burn in Halfway sent Deputy Chief Ed Ernst of the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co. out.

A resident was burning brush and cardboard in his backyard and smoke blanketed the neighborhood. When firefighters arrived, Ernst said he told the homeowner about the burn ban and had the fire put out, but irate neighbors were upset that more couldn't be done.

"That's all we have the authority to do," Ernst said. "We put it out, advise of the burn ban and send them a bill for our services. There is nothing stopping that person from starting another fire as soon as we leave."

While the fires in question weren't out of control, fire officials said they were of concern because of the dry conditions.

The commissioners voted unanimously Sept. 10 to impose an outdoor burning ban. Maryland state parks and the C&O Canal National Historical Park followed suit within a week.

The burning ban prohibits campfires, warming fires and fire training exercises, Bucher said.

The ban followed a decision by the Maryland Department of the Environment to downgrade the county's status from a normal drought status to a drought watch.

"When there is an illegal burn, the first agency notified is the fire department in that area," said Joe Kroboth, director of the Department of Emergency Services in Washington County.

Those firefighters explain to the person doing the burning about the burn ban, Kroboth said. "If they are uncooperative, we turn it over to the health department."

All dispatchers at Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications are telling callers that there are no exceptions to the burn ban.

In the City of Hagerstown, the job of enforcing a burn ban is nothing new for firefighters.

"There is never any open burning allowed in the city," said Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker. "Not ever ... no matter what the conditions."

If anyone attempts to violate the city code on open burning, the first offense is punishable with a $100 fine. The second offense is $200 and so on, Hawbaker said.

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