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Pa. fire officials haven't reached consensus on burn ban

July 12, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- While fire officials agree that conditions in Pennsylvania's Franklin and Fulton counties are dangerous for outside burning, they haven't reached a consensus on whether countywide burn bans should be enacted.

One problem is that once enacted, a countywide burn ban would be in effect for at least 30 days, regardless of how much rain might fall after the burn ban's start date, according to Ray Miller, a forest fire specialist supervisor.

Franklin County Administrator John Hart said the county commissioners can enact a burn ban by code. They are supposed to decide after receiving written recommendations from either 10 fire chiefs or 50 percent of the county's fire chiefs, depending on staffing at the time.

"Right now, I'm understanding there are discussions with the various fire chiefs and the district forester," Hart said, saying Franklin County's commissioners haven't yet received a recommendation.

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"We have to have 10 fire chiefs ... and we only have seven (from Franklin County) at this point in time," said Rod Lyon, a forest assistant manager.

Miller and Lyon work for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Bureau of Forestry. Miller works in District 2, the "Buchanan District," which serves Bedford, Fulton and western Franklin counties. Lyon works in District 1, the "Michaux District," which serves eastern Franklin, Adams, York and southern Cumberland counties.

The Buchanan District office is coordinating requests from fire chiefs in Franklin County.

For Fulton County, the office hasn't received any requests from the three fire departments, Miller said.

Lyon said his office responded to two fires Sunday, one in Adams County and one on Fish and Game Road outside Waynesboro.

"I think it's needed," he said of a burn ban. "We can't depend on the weather at this point."

Humidity mixes with brush on the ground to create "forest fuels," Lyon said. Recent fires have spread more through slope than wind, he said.

The fires aren't spreading exceptionally aggressively, but they're burning deeper and require more water to extinguish. It takes a toll on volunteer firefighters dealing with high heat indexes, according to Lyon.

The small creeks used as water sources for firefighting efforts are dry, Miller said.

Fulton County hasn't had many brush fires recently, he said.

"In my travels, I haven't seen people burning outside," Miller said. "I think people realize the conditions now."

Some municipalities like Washington and Quincy townships in Franklin County, have enacted their own burn bans until rain changes conditions. The Antrim Township Supervisors are expected to consider enacting a burn ban at Tuesday night's meeting.

Other municipalities, such as Waynesboro and Chambersburg boroughs, prohibit most outdoor burning year-round.

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