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Sheriff calls county's fire ban, which is not in effect yet, 'toothless'

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Moffat County may be the next county to effect a fire ban, but that ban won't have any teeth.

According to Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, the county has no resolution or ordinance that outlines penalties for violating a fire ban.

Not that he hasn't tried.

Grinstead said he's presented a resolution to the Moffat County commissioners several times and each time it has been tabled.

"Every year I have talked about passing a resolution that outlines the process of implementing a fire ban that outlines what the ban includes, the exemptions as well as the penalty phase," Grinstead said, "it's always been, shall we say, not the priority at the time and it was tabled."

The resolution Grinstead presented is titled "An ordinance to ban open fires in unincorporated portions of Moffat County during periods of high fire danger."

It outlines a progressive penalty system that includes a fine of not more than $100 for a first offense, not more than $200 for a second offense and the maximum fine permitted by law on third and subsequent offenses. The costs of suppression of any fire for which a violator is convicted would also be assessed to the violator as reasonable restitution.

Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson said Grinstead never presented an ordinance. Rather, the sheriff presented the issue, Dickinson said, but not an official action.

The ordinance provided by Grinstead is dated 2001 and the sheriff said he had presented it several times in the past.

"Buddy brought forward some ideas, but there's never been a sit down discussion," Dickinson said. "There are pros and cons. I've never been one to enact penalties just to have penalties. There's no reason to create more laws that do no good."

According to Dickinson, when Grinstead brought up the issue, there were probably more pressing matters to address and it was listed as a low priority. But he also said that if an ordinance were to be considered it should be presented at a time when it isn't necessary to implement it immediately so that commissioners have the time to weigh the pros and cons and hold a public workshop.

Grinstead, as well as Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Roy Mason, say its imperative that there be some recourse against violators of a fire ban.

"We call it a ban without any teeth," Grinstead said. "In some cases a third- or fourth-degree arson crime has occurred, but that's not the case most times. Mostly it's just an expense to the fire district and law enforcement agencies."

According to Dickinson, there are penalties for violating fire bans on the state and federal levels. Those penalties don't include violations that occur on Moffat County or private property.

Dickinson said penalties and fire bans are overrated.

"I think folks rely too much that just because politicians pass something on paper that fires aren't going to happen," he said. "Fire bans don't stop fires, common sense does.

"On one side of the equation, fire bans are appropriate to tell visitors to our community not to play with matches. Local folks have the common sense not to cause fires. They don't need the government to tell them what to do."

Dickinson said he believes the board will enact a fire ban if requested to do so.

"If Buddy thinks it's appropriate to put a fire ban on, we'll certainly take action," Dickinson said.

Grinstead plans to request the commissioners enact a strict countywide fire ban that, similar to the ban enacted by Gov. Bill Owens, prohibits all fires, even in fire pits, and the use of all fireworks.


SIDEBAR

Tuesday Steamboat Springs cancelled its fireworks display in deference to the extreme fire risk in Colorado. Craig won't be following suit.

At least not at this point.

Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Roy Mason said unless the state mandates a ban on all public displays and unless there's a major fire in Moffat County that diverts the department's resources, there will be a public display on July 4th.

"We take quite a few precautions for safety," he said. "We have adequate fire trucks on hand if we get an ember that starts a fire. The area is open and wide enough that we can see any problems and there are no structures nearby."

Mason said the department does a preliminary burn at the site, off Ninth Street south of the Moffat County High School, to eliminate potential fuel.

"We get a fire every year we've shot, but we have trucks right there to put them out," he said.

Manpower is another issue that could prevent a local fireworks display. Mason said he needs a minimum of 21 firefighters on hand nearly the entire department during the display.

"As long as the public doesn't start a bunch of fires somewhere else we can do it," he said. "We don't have the manpower to fight fires and put on a show."

City Manager Jim Ferree said he would defer to the fire department to make the final decision on whether there will be an Independence Day fireworks display.

Individuals, per order of Gov. Bill Owens, cannot light any fireworks at all. In the past, some fireworks those that didn't leave the ground were allowed for private use, but not this year. That ban affects state property and a similar one effects federal property.

City ordinance prohibits the use of any fireworks that leave the ground.

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 16, who is not under the supervision of an adult, to use any fireworks.

Setting off fireworks illegally is a Class A misdemeanor by city ordinance and carries a fine of $75 to $300 and/or 15 to 90 days in jail.

"We have problems with people setting off fireworks illegally all the time," Vanatta said. "The most historical problem we have is with pop bottle rockets. Those probably start more fires than anything else. Once it leaves the ground you've lost control of it."

According to Mason, the fire department responds to an average of three to five fires every July 4th.

Ferree said the city is considering a complete ban on the private use of fireworks within the city limits, but no decision has been made yet. They will consult with the fire district and the Craig Police Department before making a decision.

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