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In light of fires, commission implements burn ban
new deh county commission burn ban second pic web
A volunteer sorts donated supplies at Ashland High School Saturday afternoon. The halls of the school were filled with items donated to help victims of the prairie fires in the area. The school also housed first responders and other volunteers. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Approved a contract with L&M Contractors of Great Bend to install an improved drainage pipe south of Ellinwood. L&M was asked to submit a price to construct a concrete headwall and install a flapgate on the end of the pipe that drains the ditch on the west side of SE 105 Ave. into the Arkansas River. The flapgate, which the county has in stock, will prevent river water from backing up into the ditch. There is money available in the Special Bridge fund for the quoted price of $7,860, County Engineer Barry McManaman said.  

• Approved Barton County Health Department applications for $353,112.36 in annual state and federal grants. Health Director Shelly Schneider said the programs and amounts this year are: 

Child care licensing program, $31,152.91

Chronic disease risk reduction, $84,139.13

Family planning, $66,827.43

Maternal & child health, $73,815.29

Pregnancy maintenance initiative, $10,000.01

Public health emergency preparedness, $23,658.06

Regional public health emergency preparedness, $37,224

Special health care needs, $7,500

State formula, $18,795.53

• Approved the 2017 road paint striping program. The Road and Bridge Department received a quote from Straight Line Striping Inc. in reference to striping approximately 105 miles of county roads. The estimated cost, at no more than $95,000, was included in the 2017 Road and Bridge budget as an expected operating expense, Barton County Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips said.

• Approved an agreement with The Kansas Department of Transportation to treat noxious weeds in the county. The KDOT secretary has submitted an agreement to treat noxious weeds on KDOT rights-of-way. Included in the contract is a price of $24 per hour for operator and $46 per hour for the spray vehicles. It also details how work shall be recorded and what chemicals may be used. 

 Citing extremely dry conditions and high winds creating an “imminent threat of fire,” the Barton County Commission Monday morning signed a resolution establishing a temporary burn ban for Barton County. 

It went into effect at 12:01 p.m. Monday and prohibits all outdoor open burning in the rural areas of the county. It will remain in force until the commission votes to rescind it.

Barton County Emergency Manager Amy Miller said agricultural burning for crop and pasture management practices (such as Conservation Reserve Program ground) may be exempted only with written permit by the local fire chief. Questions should be directed to the chief who may or may not issue the permit.

Violation of this burn ban resolution can result in fines of up to $1,000.

The action came after Fire District Number One Chief Doug Hubbard, Great Bend Fire Department Battalion Chief John Stettinger and Miller addressed the commission.

“Great Bend, Albert, Pawnee Rock, Hoisington and Ellinwood have all been fighting fires,” Hubbard said. Most departments have also aided other counties with their efforts.

“It’s very dangerous out there,” Stettinger said. “It’s so dry and windy, the fire danger is very high.”

Even the smallest fire can get out of control and cause serious damage, Stettinger said. And, each fire is a drain on resources.

Fire chiefs across the county had already been advising burn permit holders against rural burning. Now, with no measurable rain in the forecast for some time, they all feel a total ban is better, Hubbard said.

The county’s burn ban resolution has only been around for a few years, Miller said. Prior to that, a “state of local disaster” was declared, but this required re-approval by the commission each week.

The ban is ongoing until it is removed, Miller said. 

Up until Monday, fire chiefs were issuing fire restrictions and requested someone asking to burn not do so, Hubbard said. These are always an option, ban or not, but don’t have the same force of law.

A burn permit

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the county had a burn permit process, Hubbard said. Prior to that, departments were responding to reports of fires that were really controlled burns.

These false alarms were costly.

The commission approved the permit process in 2005. Since then, Hubbard said the number of these calls has dropped dramatically.

Once a permit is issued, it is usually for the applicant’s lifetime; they just have to let Barton County Communications know they are burning.

The system is easier on the permit holders and on fire departments, Hubbard said. It is also safer.

There are punitive actions that can be taken should a permit holder violate the guidelines.