Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz recommended Tuesday the Moffat County Commission consider enacting an ordinance restricting open fires in the county.
Jantz cited his agency’s participation in a 300-acre fire currently burning near Powder Wash during his visit with commissioners. He said funding for state and federal aid has already been stretched thin because of the early start to the fire season on the Front Range.
The fire near Powder Wash began Monday night and was started by natural causes, Jantz said.
Even so, Jantz asked commissioners to consider approving an ordinance restricting open fires because of an abundance of fuels around the county and current weather predictions are calling for more dry, hot weather in the coming weeks.
“We put off the fire restriction talk until after Memorial Day weekend and our public did a great job. We didn’t have any man-caused fires over the holiday,” Jantz said. “But, we’re in it, you know we’re in it, and I’m recommending we enact a fire restriction ordinance, not a resolution.”
Although residents can face criminal and civil prosecution if a fire gets out of control and are likely to receive a bill for firefighting services, Jantz argued law enforcement officers cannot issue fines to those who disobey a county resolution.
However, an ordinance would have more “teeth” because an officer would be permitted to issue a ticket for noncompliance, Jantz said.
Commissioner Tom Gray questioned whether fines are necessary.
“The ultimate goal is to protect lives and property, but will a fine do that?” Gray said. “Isn’t education a more appropriate course of action?”
Jantz referenced past resolutions and attempts to educate the public in his argument for an ordinance.
“Based on my past experience, whether we enact a resolution for a (fire) restriction or a ban, people are going to burn anyway,” Jantz said. “There’s little we can do besides tell a person to put it out.”
Jantz said he was in favor of a fire restriction instead of a ban to allow residents to host events such as family barbecues throughout the summer.
However, Jantz recommended residents be required to pick up an open fire permit from the sheriff’s office as part of the ordinance.
“I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, that’s why I am recommending an open fire restriction,” Jantz said. “Having people come in for a fire permit gives us the opportunity for that face-to-face time to educate the public, and to have them inform us when and where they plan to burn.”
It is Jantz’s preference, should the commission consider his recommendation, that the fire permits be free.
Open fires are defined as any type of fire that could “throw an ember,” Jantz said. Gas-fired grills would therefore not be included as part of the potential ordinance.
If enacted, the fire restriction ordinance would be enforced in unincorporated Moffat County.
The City of Craig already has a long-standing rule against open fires within city limits.
Moffat County Attorney Rebecca Tyree agreed with Jantz’s recommendation and provided the commissioners with fire restriction ordinances written by neighboring Routt County and the state as a reference.
No action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting. The topic will likely appear on the county commission’s June 12 agenda.
If the commission decides to go the fire restriction route, an ordinance would require two public
readings before approval.