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Ban on burning goes into effect Thursday

July 27, 2011

Tracy Zents, director of Emergency Services for Jefferson County

BROOKVILLE — Due to the recent heat wave and lack of rain, the county has decided to take some preventative measures against fires.

Tuesday, the Jefferson County Commissioners adopted a resolution imposing a 30-day ban on outdoor burning in the county, effective at noon Thursday.

The ban is in accordance with Act 1995-52 of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under the recommendation of Gary Frank, the district forester.

According to the release, “open burning” is defined as the ignition and subsequent burning of any combustible material, including garbage, leaves, grass, twigs, litter, paper, vegetative matter involved with land clearing, or any sort of debris out-of-doors.

But burning is permitted in a covered burn barrel.

The use of propane or gas stoves, charcoal briquette grills or the use of tobacco in any form is not covered under this resolution. Camp fires are allowed in fire rings that confine and contain the camp fire. A person who violates this act commits a summary offense and will, upon conviction, be sentenced to a fine of not more than $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $300 for the third offense.
According to Greg Rearick, forest fire specialist supervisor, trash burning is primarily the No. 1 cause of fires in Jefferson County and the surrounding area.

Rearick said this ban is necessary because the county has been under extremely high temperatures and relatively low, significant rainfall.
“We can’t stop a fire that is generated from lightning or from an automobile’s catalytic convertor coming into contact with dry grass,” he said. “But we can reduce the number of wildfires that fire departments are going to respond to because of this ban. This ban eliminates one of the major fires caused by these dry conditions.”

Furthermore, he said that he is also worried about possible conditions of heat exhaustion and heat stroke that firefighters could experience during this time.

Tracy Zents, director of Emergency Services for Jefferson County, received requests from county fire chiefs to enact the ban.

“The exertion that the firefighters experience in this heat can further increase the danger, leading us to believe that a burn ban is warranted at this time of the year,” Rearick said.

Since 1999, legislation has allowed individual counties to enact burn bans. But prior to that date, burn bans were done by the governor’s decree, making the ban statewide.

“This allows counties who are in a drought to appropriately enact a ban without inconveniencing other counties that may not be in a drought,” Rearick said.

Although the has county received a couple downpours in the past week, the rain has not had an opportunity to soak in and rejuvenate the green growth, Rearick said.

“If you look out on your lawns, you will see that these rapid thunderstorms have done nothing to rejuvenate the greenness,” he said.

A tenth of an inch of rain, slowly accumulating in a 24-hour-period, will do more for the ground than an inch of rain per hour will do.
The duff layer, which includes old rotten roots and decaying leaves and branches, are now dried out to the point where they will burn out or smolder. Because of this, fires are “extremely difficult to extinguish” he said.

“You may think that you have a fire extinguished, but it can creep underground and spread through the duff layer or dried out logs and roots, causing a fire to rekindle hours or days later,” he said. “The fire could rekindle in the same place, sometimes burning deeper than a foot, long after you had thought it had been extinguished.”

Although the ban is in place for 30 days, it could either be lifted prematurely or extended, depending on the weather conditions.

But Rearick does not see the conditions improving any time soon.

“We see virtually no sustaining amount of rainfall, which would include several days of continuous raining, in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The ban is not only important to the safety of the firefighters, but it is also important to the safety of the homeowners and could end up saving lives and money.

According to Rearick, last week, an acre fire in Clarion burned from Friday evening until noon Monday, costing the fire company more than $2,000.

The same fire in the springtime could have been extinguished in about an hour.

“The ban not only reduces the chances of a catastrophic fire, but it also allows us to have enough personnel ready and available to respond,” he said.

Zents agrees.

“This ban is very important,” he said. “Open burning puts people in danger and puts a strain on the firefighters in high heat. It’s all in the interest of public safety.”

In other business:
• The commissioners approved to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, in which Jefferson County will administer the $25,000 North Central Greenways Implementation Grant for the development of the Redbank Valley Trail. According to Bill Setree, director of Community Development, the memorandum of understanding is in effect until all terms of the agreement are met.

• The commissioners amended the consulting engineering service agreement with Gwin, Dobson & Foreman, Inc. to include an additional $2,600 in compensation to be paid for the borough of Reynoldsville-Broadway Street waterline replacement project for a total amount of $21,600. Setree said that when the county accepted bids for the project, they came in at significantly under the amount appropriated. About 670 additional feet of water line will be constructed.

• The commissioners approved invoices in the amount of $511,629.42 for the period July 13 through July 26 inclusive.

• The commissioners approved pending invoices in the amount of $540,724.48.

• The commissioners approved the actual gross payroll in the amount of $203,312.14 for payment for the period July 3 through July 16 inclusive.

• The commissioners approved the tentative gross payroll in the amount of $202,000 for payment for the period July 17 through July 30 inclusive.

• The next commission meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9.

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