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New policy for controlled burns

WALSENBURG– The Huerfano County Fire Protection District has put together a suggested policy change that should make controlled agricultural burn notification simpler but the road bump facing the change is to get other jurisdictions and groups to go along with it.

    There are three fire protection districts in Huerfano County along with the Farm Bureau and the Cattleman’s Association that need to adapt the new policy before it can work as envisioned.

    “Right now the Huerfano County Fire Department and the Gardner Fire Protection District are in agreement with the new policy,” said Max Vezzani of the Huerfano County Fire Protection District Board.

    The new policy is based on the honor system and would ask that anyone staging a burn to call the Huerfano dispatcher letting them know that a burn will occur.  If it is a “red flag day” then dispatch will inform the caller  of that.  If not then the dispatcher will get the caller’s phone number.

    The appropriate fire protection district chief may be notified by the dispatcher that a burn will occur. 

    “This should curtail the times when someone sees smoke and calls the dispatcher to report a fire and the fire departments are dispatched only to find out that a controlled burn is in progress,” Vezzani said.  This also means if smoke is seen and reported to county dispatch they have record of where the burns are and where they aren’t so fire fighting resources can be used more efficiently.

    The fire fighters are volunteers and when they are dispatched to a fire they have to leave their jobs and go.  This costs the employers money, the fire fighters lose pay and equipment is used burning fuel and putting on hours of use.  If it is known where controlled burns are, then it makes for a responsive system where safety and property are maintained and farmers and ranchers can go about their business without interference.

    The county is also considering a possible ordinance modeled after the Gunnison Accord.  If the county does adopt an ordinance they will be able to fine anyone who fails to notify dispatch of a controlled burn and the fire department is dispatched to the site only to find an agricultural burn in progress.

    The next step will be presenting the suggested policy to the various agencies and seek their ideas and feed back.

    “Right now this new policy doesn’t tread on anyones ability to govern how controlled burns are managed in their districts.  If for example a particular fire chief wants to issue a burn permit under the new policy he will be able to do so,” Vezzani said.