The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

April 23, 2014

Firefighters support Montour County burning ban

DANVILLE — DANVILLE — An Anthony Township resident questioned Montour County’s 30-day ban on open burning.

Speaking at Tuesday night’s county commissioners meeting, Ken Hunter asked what would be next. “Where do we stop babysitting people,” he asked.

Valley Township Fire Chief Mike Kull, who is also a forest fire warden, said a small fire was reported recently in Anthony Township. It was started by people from Turbotville who didn’t know there was a burning ban in Montour County. The ban remains in effect through May 10.

Because of the number of people attending the meeting, it was moved from the commissioners’ meeting room to the courtroom.

Several firefighters, including fire chiefs in the county, reported responding to a brush fire Tuesday in Cooper Township started by a man who was target shooting.

The man fired three shots and by the time he turned around to reload his rifle, the fire on the metal target was so large he couldn’t handle it, Danville Deputy Chief John Moyer said.

“By the time we got there, there was over one acre involved,” he said of grassland with the fire spreading into woods and over a large embankment.

“That’s something you see in the West but it’s not common on the East Coast,” Kull said.

“We were there three hours after being up all night,” Mahoning Township Fire Chief Leslie Young said, referring to the fire Sunday night that heavily damaged BJ’s Steak and Rib House in Danville.

Saying he has been doing open burning 50-some years and helped extinguish a forest fire, Hunter believes a handsome fine should be imposed on people who start fires. Kull said that would be something a municipality would have to decide.

If someone causes a fire, the person can be billed by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, forester Wes Harner said.

Kull said open burning isn’t allowed in Danville and it is only allowed on certain days in Mahoning Township.

When Hunter asked about burning papers at his home, Kull said recycling units in Anthony and Valley townships accept all kinds of papers, including envelopes. People can take items there anytime with no sorting. Hunter said he would take papers there for recycling.

“I’m a brush burner and I’m afraid to burn now,” Commissioner Jack Gerst said of the danger of fire.

Commissioners Chairman Trevor Finn is in favor of keeping the ban in effect and then consulting the fire chiefs and forester “to move off or keep it.”

Kull said an open burning ban was imposed last year for the first time in Schuylkill County and that county has a ban in effect now. The ban has reduced fires by 60 percent in Schuylkill County, he said.

The fire chiefs and foresters proposed the ban, approved by the commissioners, because of the number of brush fires in Montour County this year. Five brush fires were caused by people burning debris, Kull said. “This is the most active brush fire season in the county since someone was setting fires,” Kull said.

Harner said there was one brush fire last year in Montour County. “Spring is the worst time with warm conditions and no shade on the ground,” he said.  

Hunter questioned why only Montour and Schuylkill counties have bans in this area’s forest district of seven counties. “It comes down to fire chiefs and commissioners where in a lot of places that doesn’t happen,” Harner said.

Hunter asked about the state game commission doing controlled burning. Harner explained the game commission has to put together a plan, write a prescription why burning is needed and how it will help. There are parameters on when burning can be done with the plan requiring DCNR approval.

If the game commission wanted to do burning in Montour County, it would have to obtain an exemption because of the ban, he said.

Email comments to kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.

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