Burn ban back on in county

By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer

Feb. 11, 2008 - A ban on outdoor burning in Hopkins County was reinstated this morning by county commissioners, just three days after an emergency order prohibiting outside fires expired.

"We are still under the effect of extreme fire hazards," said Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap.

Due to dry conditions that continue throughout the state, county commissioners decided to extend the burn ban for Hopkins County until March 10, when they will reconvene for their first regular meeting of that month and "revisit" the situation.

The action, taken today during a meeting of Hopkins County Commissioners Court, prohibits the burning of all combustible materials outside of any container or enclosure that will control flames and sparks. No exemptions from the burn ban were given.

Fire calls have been down, according to Precinct 3 Commissioner Don Patterson, who said volunteer firemen have been going "above and beyond" in keeping brush and grass fires under control. But Hopkins County Fire Department and rural volunteers answered at least eight reports of grass fires over the weekend, a sign that conditions are still conducive to fires.

Millsap first signed the emergency order Feb. 1, following Gov. Rick Perry's disaster proclamation for 152 counties, including Hopkins, providing eligibility for state disaster assistance.

Some commissioners have made provisions to help out county residents during the burn ban.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker said household garbage may be brought to the Precinct 1 barn, located approximately five miles south on State Highway 19, where a dumpster is on the premises.

Gates will be open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

"Instead of letting trash build up, residents can bring their household garbage they can't burn by the barn," said Wisenbaker, who also issued a warning to those who may attempt to dispose of other materials.

"We do have a camera out there," she said.

Anyone caught starting a fire outdoors is subject to a $500 fine, if found guilty of violating the outdoor burning prohibition. In the past, county policy has been more lenient, issuing warnings violators that a ban is in effect. However, due to the extreme conditions, officers may, at their discretion, notify the person of the order, requesting compliance, and a record of the notification kept on file.

Second or "flagrant" violations of the ban "may be prosecuted in accordance with the statutes and procedures governing misdemeanors."

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