SHERIDAN — Cooler temperatures, frost on the ground and snow on the Bighorn Mountain peaks might seem like safe conditions for planned burns in Sheridan County, but the countywide fire ban set on July 19 remains in effect.
Assistant County Fire Warden Fritz Bates said the county can expect the fire ban to remain in effect for another two to three weeks. Both Bates and Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said they do not want to lift the fire ban just to turn around and enact it again. Thompson said the effectiveness of the ban depends on how well they can get the word out about it.
“I understand it is a hardship on a lot of folks,” Bates said. “It’s the fall of the year, leaves are falling, they want to burn their leaves, or the brush pile they’ve created all summer, but we just had 91,000 acres burn; we don’t need another one like that.”
SCSO reported five fire ban violations in October and four in September. While consequences of each violation are dependent upon the circumstance, the resolution adopted by the Sheridan County commissioners on July 18 defines the violation as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment of up to 30 days or both. Fire districts may also request restitution for the cost of extinguishing any fire that is not considered accidental where a conviction is obtained in a court of competent jurisdiction, the resolution said.
Thompson said often neighbors who know of the fire ban will call in violations and those calls force district fire departments and deputies to respond, resulting in a waste of county resources and officers. He asked that all county residents looking to complete a planned burn at any point during the year make a habit of calling SCSO, which in turn allows for deputies to notify the resident of any restrictions currently in place, thus avoiding a violation. Thompson said violations typically include those looking to burn leaf piles or brush piles accumulated throughout the summer and fall seasons.
Sheridan County fire wardens start looking into conditions in the early spring to determine whether the county will need a fire ban instated. Weather conditions including precipitation levels, wind strength and fuel loading, or grass available for burning, all play a part in the determination. Bates said the fire warden starts the research into the possible fire ban, and then takes the information to the fire districts in the county to make the call on whether to initiate the ban. Sheridan County Fire Warden Bill Biastoch then goes in front of the county commissioners to instate the ban for the county. The wardens keep an eye on the weather conditions reported out of the Billings weather service. Once conditions remain stable and at low risk for causing large wildfires, they will lift the ban.
While a small fire north of Burgess Junction utilized some resources from the Bighorn National Forest and Dayton Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday and Friday, USFS personnel also complete prescribed burns on the forest throughout the fall. They consider conditions, put together burn plans and have numerous staff members on hand to handle the acres burned, prevent undesirable spread and address any potential troubles that arise.
This week, crews conducted prescribed burns on the southwest side of the Bighorns. While the forest service completes prescribed burns in the Bighorns, county residents are still required to follow the fire ban in effect in Sheridan County.