Friday, April 20, 2018

County burn permit system is up and running

Stillwater County’s first ever burn permit system is up and going.
As of early Tuesday, four permits had already been purchased through the state of Montana-run online program.

How to Purchase a Permit
The system is simple: Access the website or through a link on the county’s home webpage. Applicants can do this from any computer or in person at the Stillwater County Clerk & Recorder’s Office or the Columbus Fire Hall at 944 E. Pike Avenue.
The system takes the permit purchaser through the process step by step.
•Step 1: Select Stillwater County out of the 16 listed that currently use the system.
•Step 2: Select one of five options (purchase a burn permit, activate a burn permit, edit or reprint an existing burn permit, renew an existing burn permit or view current burn activity).
•Step 3: If you are purchasing a permit, the next screen asks for name, address, insurance company, email and at least one phone number.
•Step 4: At least one emergency contact number is requested in addition to the latitude/longitude address of the burn. A pop-up map helps the purchaser find that latitude/longitude.
•Step 5: The purchaser is asked to review the contact information provided.
•Step 6: Next is a page of legal terms and conditions from Montana law, as well as an present “Fire Control Restrictions and Duties” that include guidelines on burning in safe conditions such as not when the wind is blowing, during daylight hours, etc., what can be legally burned and what are the burner’s responsibilities. This page ends with “I understand this permit will be suspended or revoked if conditions warrant or if I do not comply with fire control ordinance.”
•Step 6: The next page is the payment page, which allows the purchaser to pay with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, eCheck or ePass Montana. Then the purchaser prints the permit, which includes the permit number, or have it emailed or mailed to them.

Only one permit purchase is required per year and can be used for as many controlled burns as desired.
The first year permit fee is $8, with $3 going to the state and $5 going to the county to be used for a mass education program. The fee drops $5 the second and subsequent years.
Permits can be purchased online or in person at the Clerk & Recorders Office. On the day of a desired burn, the permit holder either calls an automated line or logs onto a dedicated website. If there are no restrictions that day, the permit is activated and the permit holder tells the system exactly where they will be conducting the burn.
That activation then goes to the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Dispatch for tracking purposes. That is an important element because historically, when calls come into dispatch about smoke, there is no definite way to know if that smoke is the result of a controlled burn or an uncontrolled burn, meaning fire crews are sent out to investigate.
A dispatcher will now be able to check the location called in and immediately know if fire crews need to respond or if it is simply a controlled burn.
If there are restrictions in place, the permit holder is notified at the time of activation. As explained by Fire Warden Carol Arkell, a limited number of circumstances can cause the county to prohibit burning an any given day, including the following:
•Being in Stage 1 or Stage 2 Fire Restrictions
•Being under NOAA red flag warning conditions
•When resources are depleted, such as an uncontrolled burn somewhere in the county that is drawing fire fighting resources.

The county has been broken down into four districts for the purpose of the burn permit system: Absarokee, Columbus, Park City and North. Forest Service lands that fall within the county are their own district and retain their own burning policies.
Any one of these districts can be shut down at any time at the request of fire officials.
The resolution establishing the system establishes a fire season of Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 and sets forth violations of burning without a permit can result in being charged with a misdemeanor crime. The system will be administered by Fire Warden Carol Arkell, Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger and Sheriff Cliff Brophy.
For more information call Arkell at (406)321-1997 or the Clerk & Recorder’s Office at (406)322-8000.