Resolution passed on heels of Walter Way Fire

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“It is similar, there are a lot of things we carried over from the first (resolution). But we didn’t have any guidelines or a reference for what we could charge under. This new ban outlines (Colorado Revised Statutes) they could be found criminally liable for. It’s still a resolution, but it has a little more teeth in it.”

— Todd Wheeler, Moffat County Sheriff’s Office fire management officer

It took little convincing and no more than five minutes of discussion before the Moffat County Commission approved Friday a new resolution banning all open fires.

Todd Wheeler, fire management officer for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, and Charlene Abdella, Moffat County undersheriff, initiated a special Friday meeting of the Moffat County Commission to present Resolution 2012-81 upping the county’s current restrictions against burning to an all out ban on open fires.

Wheeler cited dry weather conditions and a lack of resources across the nation in requesting the ban.

The commission approved the resolution, 2-0. The ban takes effect immediately and remains in place until further order.

Commissioner Tom Mathers was absent from Friday’s special meeting.

Prior to its adoption Friday, commissioner Tom Gray questioned whether the resolution was simply restating the same restrictions the commission implemented for unincorporated Moffat County earlier this month.

But Wheeler pointed out a number of key additions not outlined under the old resolution, most notably the ability for law enforcement officers to levy certain criminal and civil penalties to those found to be in violation of the open fire ban.

“It is similar, there are a lot of things we carried over from the first (resolution),” Wheeler said. “But we didn’t have any guidelines or a reference for what we could charge under.

“This new ban outlines (Colorado Revised Statutes) they could be found criminally liable for. It’s still a resolution, but it has a little more teeth in it.”

Among some of the charges offenders could face if convicted in court are CRS statutes pertaining to firing woods or prairie lands, unlawful conduct on public property, leaving an unattended campfire, obstructing government operations, 4th degree arson, reckless endangerment and unlawful use of fireworks pursuant to Governor John Hickenlooper’s June 14 executive order.

In addition, the current ban no longer allows the Sheriff’s office to issue free permits for open burning except for industrial applications, Wheeler said.

In addition, the old resolution granted certain exemptions to the fire restriction and allowed residents to light charcoal grills, indoor fireplaces, and bonfires for religious ceremonies on private property.

According to language in the new resolution, the open fire ban extends to private property in Moffat County, unless municipalities contained therein have adopted their own fire restrictions.

The resolution defines open burning as all outdoor fires including, but not limited to, agricultural burning, campfires, warming fires, fused explosives, fireworks of all kinds and brands, the prescribed burning of fence rows, wildlands, trash, and debris.

Among the acts specifically prohibited by the ban beyond open fires are smoking, except within enclosed vehicles or buildings; welding or use of any open flame, except within an enclosed building or with a Sheriff’s office issued permit; operation of any internal combustion device not featuring a properly installed spark arresting device; operating a chainsaw without a pressurized fire extinguisher and 36-inch pointed shovel on hand; and parking or driving motorized vehicles off established roads, motorized trails, or established parking areas.

The only exemption left in place is for the operation of liquid pressurized or propane fueled grills.

The ban was adopted to prevent as many human-caused fires in Moffat County as possible, the resolution states.

So far at least two wildfires are suspected to have been ignited by human causes.

Last week the Sand Fire burned an estimated 2,000 acres off U.S. Highway 40 near mile marker 79 about 10 miles west of Craig.

Investigators believe a lit cigarette discharged from a moving vehicle ignited fire.

And on Thursday the Walter Way Fire burned five acres and threatened two homes off Johnson Road about five miles east of Craig.

Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, fire officials believe two minors, aged nine and 11, ignited the fire by setting off illegal fireworks.

A week ago Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said law enforcement officers in the city and the county would take a zero tolerance policy to those violating the fire ban, particularly in situations where fireworks are deemed to be at play.

Although the commission did not adopt a stricter ban featuring criminal penalties until Friday, Hickenlooper’s June 14 executive order banning the private use of fireworks throughout the state provides local law enforcement officers the ability to levy charges against the minors and/or their parents.

Wheeler made the distinction between the minors and their parents because according to state law a minor can only be charged criminally if he or she has reached the age of mental culpability, which in Colorado is 10-years-old.

Because one of the alleged offenders is nine, Wheeler said his parents could face civil charges for the damage caused by the fire.

The 11-year-old, on the other hand, could face criminal charges in addition to civil charges being levied against his parents.

Those charges had not been filed Friday, Wheeler said, citing the ongoing investigation and talks between law enforcement officials and the Moffat County District Attorney’s Office on how to proceed.

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