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Crews mop up Stevensville-area fire, fire chief questions regulations

By Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Jul 05 2013 06:58:44 PM MDT
Updated On: Jul 05 2013 08:30:55 PM MDT
STEVENSVILLE, Mont. -

On Friday, fire crews spent time cleaning up a fire that burned near the Three Mile area, roughly six miles east of downtown Stevensville. It has burned between 100 and 150 acres, according to fire officials. Authorities told NBC Montana that flames came near a house on Thursday, but crews eventually had taken control of the fire.

Crews dealt with re-ignitions through Thursday night and Friday morning, but they were within blackened, controlled areas.

Two firefighters were reportedly taken to a hospital, one for heat exhaustion, and the other for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

Investigators say a man had been doing a controlled burn and that it had gotten out of control. On Friday, NBC Montana spoke with Corvallis Fire Chief Jim Knapp, whose agency assisted in the response to the fire, about why he thinks Ravalli County should tighten restrictions.

“We had a guy in our fire department who was getting married yesterday and half the guys in the department missed his wedding because a fire that never should have [happened.] ...Burning never should have been opened.” said Knapp.

Knapp says he has pushed Ravalli County commissioners to implement a burn permit system. It would include a hotline that people could call to find out if they’re allowed to burn, based on weather conditions.

“This county hasn’t taken on the project of putting into place responsible burning parameters,” said Knapp.

Commissioner J.R. Iman tells NBC Montana that a permit system has been brought up in the past, but not approved.

“When we have valley-wide restrictions, everybody has to agree,” said Iman.

He also points out that places that have permits often have more predictable, strong winds, like Lewis and Clark County.  

“After you get a permit you can burn all year, except when you call the hotline and they say don’t burn. So, would yesterday have been a day? I don’t know,” said Iman.

The way it stands, Ravalli County regulations allow a council of fire chiefs and emergency authorities to recommend to county commissioners when to shut down open burning. Some years, it never happens.

This year, Iman expects a recommendation soon and open burning, he says, could end by around Thursday next week. He also says he’s open to discussing a possible permit system in Ravalli County, and says the dialogue is healthy.

Meanwhile, Ravalli County’s fire warden tells NBC Montana that the recent heat wave was enough for the fire council to keep an eye on conditions, but not enough to close open burning.