Commissioners say no burn ban requested, designate April as ‘Clean Up Trash month’
The Ozark County Sheriff’s Report for the past week (see page 7 of this week’s Times) includes more than a dozen calls for help due to out-of-control brush and grass fires around the county. The widespread fires and smoky skies had some residents wondering whether a county burn ban would be – or should be – issued here. Although the Ozark County Times office received a few calls inquiring about the possibility of a burn ban, the Ozark County Commissioners said at their regular meeting Monday that they had heard no comments or requests from residents or local fire departments regarding a burn ban.
“Every fire department in the county has my number, and not a one of them called me to recommend a burn ban,” presiding commissioner John Turner told the Times Monday.
When asked at the meeting whether they had received any pressure not to issue a ban, the commissioners said the public has been supportive of the idea since they passed an ordinance in December 2017 giving them the power to enact a burn ban when they deem it necessary. “At the time, it was an historically dry fall and winter, and people realized something had to be done” said Turner.
The ordinance says the commissioners may order a countywide burn ban for up to 180 days at one time, and they can also dissolve the burn ban at any time when they determine the public’s health and safety are no longer threatened by outdoor burning. To order a burn ban, state law requires the commissioners to contact the office of the State Fire Marshal for confirmation that the ban is appropriate. Once issued, the Ozark County Clerk provides copies of the order to the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department, the Ozark County Health Department, the Ozark County Times and local fire districts in the county. Any person who knowingly violates a burn ban can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500 for a first offense, according to the ordinance. Subsequent violations are subject to the range of punishment for a class A misdemeanor set out in state statutes.
Turner said that, although several fires occurred last week, the conditions weren’t appropriate for a burn ban to be ordered. “This time of year, all the farmers are burning. Even the conservation department was burning. Then a little wind comes up, and it may get away from you,” Turner said. “But then you have a couple of days of rain and the conditions change. We can’t be ordering a burn ban one day and canceling it the next and then the next week, the same thing happens. This time of year, you get a dry day, and then a little wind comes up and a few idiots decide to light a fire anyway. The burn ban is really intended for periods of extended drought, not the conditions we have now.”
Turner also noted that, according to state law, farmers using “best practices” are not subject to burn bans anyway.
Western district commissioner Greg Donley added that “with spring rains, the threat of a wildfire will greatly diminish over the next couple of weeks.”
‘Clean Up Trash Month’
At their meeting Monday, the Ozark County Commissioners also signed a proclamation designating April as “Clean Up Trash month” in the county, hoping the designation will encourage residents and organizations to get out and pick up trash along area roads and highways. The proclamation’s language “recognizes the ongoing problem of roadside litter” and says “the removal of such litter will keep our beautiful Ozark County a clean and desirable vacation destination.” It also notes that county, state and city governments “lack the required resources to rid the County of this growing problem.”
Responding to the commissioners’ request, WCA Waste Corporation has donated a 30-yard dumpster for the effort; it will be placed at the Ozark County Recycling Center on County Road 513 at Lilly Ridge by April 1 to accept the trash residents collect. Trash bags and safety vests will be available for those who want to organize a cleanup.
Referring to the plastic-netting hay wrap litter problem that was the focus of an Ozark County Times opinion piece published Feb. 21, Turner said, “It’s not just the net wrap. It’s beer boxes, trash, feed sacks, plastic bags, beer bottles – and it looks terrible.”
Turner addressed the Ozark County Chamber of Commerce at its meeting last week and said he plans to speak with other local organizations to garner their support for the trash-cleanup project.