Butte County Commissioners want fire accountability

BELLE FOURCHE — Belle Fourche County Commissioners heard testimony at their Tuesday meeting as to who ends up paying the bill when controlled burns get out of control.

Commissioners were asked to consider possible language changes for the Butte County burn ordinance or a resolution that would speak to making the entity doing the burn liable for damages that are caused if the burn gets out of control even if that entity is governed at state or federal levels.

Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere said at the meeting some immunity might be understood as being built into an ordinance if they are not specifically addressed within that ordinance. He said clarification identifying who is responsible for payment of damages might be in the best interest of the county.

An example of a controlled burn that went out of control was the Perkins County fire that was started by the U.S. Forest Service in April 2013. They lost control and it burned about 1,400 acres of pasture and farmland in five days. Local officials recommended no burning on that day.

The more recent in National Wind Cave National Park Cold Brook Fire was also used as an example. The Park Service started a prescribed burn on April 13. Several hours into the burn, the wind blew embers into dry grass outside fire lines. Strong winds fanned the flames before it was contained at approximately 6,420 acres.

“If a landowner loses control of a permitted burn, they are liable for damages but that is not always the case with state and federal burns,” Lamphere said.

If there are any changes in wording the entities involved could be in attendance during a first reading so the county and those entities are in agreement as to what is being said Lamphere added.

Commissioners discussed U.S. Sen. John Thune’s latest efforts in shifting accountability and they will monitor those attempts and re-address open burns at a future meeting.

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